Mom Gilbert: A Troopers Pioneering Volunteer
There is an untold number of people across the country who think “mom” when they hear Traute Gilbert’s name.
Gilbert, a Casper, Wyoming resident, is the mother of five children, four of whom proudly marched with Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps. In addition to her own children, legions of Troopers’ alumni think of Gilbert as Mom thanks to her years of service to the organization and her devotion to supporting its members.
“Traute Gilbert was unbelievably dedicated, hardworking, and an all-around saint during my time with the Troopers in 2008-2009,” said Alumni Hannah Alexander. “A true hero and the type of woman I aspire to be.”
Traute and her husband, Ted, first volunteered with the Troopers in the early 1980s, stepping into many roles - from feeding the members to selling souvenirs. The couple were among the first people to be inducted into the Troopers Hall of Fame and were named honorary Troopers thanks to their years of selfless service.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Troopers is proud to spotlight MOM Gilbert. Traute’s role in advancing the efforts to feed the corps as an organization and in pioneering Troopers’ mobile food operations is legendary. Also legendary? The bonds she made with marching members over the course of the three decades she was most heavily engaged as a volunteer.
“I met Traute as a 15-year-old member of the Corps when she was one of our nurses and a bus mom. She was someone we always knew was watching out for us,” said Mathew Krum, alumni, former corps director and the organization’s long-time Bingo Manager.
The Gilbert family’s drum corps journey began in 1979 when son Kurt became involved with the Troopers’ Cadet Corps. Soon, in the winter of 1980, Troopers’ founder Jim Jones invited Kurt to move up to the A Corps. By summer, Traute had jumped in to help, recalling cleaning hats as one of her first efforts.
“Sewing, crafting, cooking became quick additions to her resume, subsequently followed by meal planning and record management all while spearheading the next challenge,” Krum shared.
Eventually four of Ted and Traute’s children became Troopers. Even a granddaughter marched a season. There are few portions of Troop operations with which the Gilbert family did not become involved, even when there were no family members marching. Traute noted that such involvement grew to include her children after they aged out. The expanded Gilbert clan touched even more components of Troopers’ operations – driving, teaching, directing the Cadet Corps or working on visual staff, just to name some of the support they provided.
Since starting with the Troopers, the Gilberts have `witnessed a culture shift as drum corps in general evolved. One of the first changes the Gilberts helped the Troopers navigate was increased participation by non-Casper residents. The Gilberts opened their home during the season, giving kids from elsewhere a place to stay as well as feeding them and transporting them.
“We eventually had as many as 16!” Traute shared about one of her summers with house guests.
The Troopers mystique appealed to others. Gilbert recalled that the first non-Casper-based member had previously marched with the Sky Riders from Kansas. Apparently, he slept in his car before local housing became any type of coordinated effort.
“He aged out here and went on to drive a truck [for the Troopers],” Traute recalled.
One important advancement that Traute not only witnessed but also made a major impact on herself was feeding the corps.
“In those first couple of tours we did in the early 80s, we didn’t have a food truck,” she said of her early volunteer experience.
In fact, Troopers did not have a full mobile food operation at all.
Traute remembered that members got the following for breakfast while on the road: 6 ounces of cereal, 6 ounces of drink and 4 ounces of donuts. She said lunch was usually at a mall and dinner, at a cafeteria. For both meals, the members were on their own.
“Kids paid for food on tour. For the kids that had no money, we did have a cooler with peanut butter,” she remembered.
It was in 1983 that Traute approached Jim Jones with the idea of serving the Troopers at least one hardier meal. Jim hesitated as he assumed his wife, Grace, would become involved, and he had concerns about the amount of extra work Mrs. Jones might have to do.
Still, the idea of feeding the drum corps better became like a seed planted, waiting dormant briefly, before beginning to germinate. By DCI Finals later in 1983, the Troopers got permission to use the concession area at a housing site to prepare evening meals.
As the years progressed, pausing the day for kids to scatter elsewhere for a meal came to be seen as a detriment to rehearsal. Staff realized the meal structure, as it were, wasted too much valuable practice time.
The next step came when a family bought a small trailer and catered lunch for a period, Traute recalled. Time, cost and logistical concerns remained.
From the mid-to-late 80s, however, the writing was on the wall throughout drum corps: increasing physicality of the work and the need to maximize rehearsal time meant performing ensembles needed to rethink how food worked. There began to be increased attention to the nutritional needs of performers and of making the most of time available any given day.
“We got our first food truck around 1990,” Traute recalled of the semi purchased and transformed into what became known as the Chuck Wagon.
For many years after that, there were few meals for Troop members that did not involve Mom Gilbert. One of her most popular recipes remains a go-to item on Troopers’ contemporary food truck: the ever-popular Cheesy Chicken and Rice.
Although busy with the corps’ mobile food program, Traute also served as corps nurse for many years. In her most involved days, she also sewed many uniforms, especially for the color guard.
Traute’s efforts did not go unnoticed. She was the first individual to be named Troopers’ Volunteer of the Year. This award has been given annually in her name ever since.
Today in her mid 80s, Traute still spends time working at the Troopers’ home office and Bingo Hall. Ted still serves on the organization’s board of directors.
“Over forty years since she began volunteering for the corps, she still assists me regularly with daily management of bingo hall operations,” Krum shared.
“Nothing has really changed,” he continued. “We knew from day one that Traute was watching out for us. Sometimes asked, oftentimes volunteering, but always there for us. Through her selfless volunteerism, Traute motivates and inspires. We were taught to dig deeper and push harder when we were in the corps. Traute has exemplified all of the drive and determination we strove for and helped established a higher standard in ourselves.”
When asked why she jumped in and then stayed so involved, Traute revealed just how much she took the Troopers’ mission to heart.
“It’s just about what it does for the kids. It was incredible for my kids,” she said. “Drum corps teaches members amazing things and instills confidence.”
Of course, all those lessons of drum corps are fueled by a well-fed, cared-for ensemble. And, that legacy is strong for Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps thanks to Traute Gilbert.