For most of his life, Melvin Leckron held a saxophone.
To celebrate his 97th birthday last week, family members and Abilene High School band director Aaron Tompkins arranged a surprise concert for the man who has been involved in band for 85 years.
"The one thing he would love for his birthday is band music," said his granddaughter Mary Duey.
“That was real nice. That was sure a surprise,” Leckron said following the three-song concert. “They were all so good.”
Because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic that limits guests to Frontier Estates, the family was unable to throw a traditional birthday party.
They arranged for the serenade as a birthday present.
Leckron started playing in the Abilene City Band when he started junior high school, several years before Mark Gordon wrote “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” one of the songs played by the AHS band members at his birthday celebration.
Leckron said he started out playing the baritone saxophone but soon transferred to the tenor saxophone.
“Originally, when I first joined, it was an all male band,” Leckron said. “A few years later they decided they should have ladies.”
The Abilene City Band provided the music for the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo for many years and marched during the Abilene Western Parade. Traditionally the band performs Thursday evening concerts in the summer.
The Abilene band members wore chaps and cowboy hats when they marched. That is what Leckron was wearing when he marched with the city band in the inaugural parades in Washington D.C. for President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 and 1957.
“I think going to the inaugural was the highlight of the band. The Abilene band led the civilian part of the inaugural parade,” he said. “Of course, the military was ahead of the civilian part. There were a lot of military but a lot of civilians.”
While Leckron didn’t get an opportunity to meet President Eisenhower, he said the president did mingle among the band members after the inauguration.
“We played a concert after that and he came out and talked to our director Pearly Royer and a few of the fellows,” Leckron said.
Harold Royer, called Pearly by his friends, was the director of the band for several decades and is the namesake of the Royer Bandshell.
The Abilene City Band can trace its direct roots to 1881, which makes it the second or third oldest municipal band in the state, according to Tom Miles, former director of the Abilene City Band and band historian.
The AHS band also played “Auld Lang Syne” and “Happy Birthday” to Leckron and at least one other resident who stood on the balcony during that short concert.
Leckron was also a member of the Abilene High School band. He was involved in community organizations in the past and was also an Abilene city commissioner.