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Culver prepares for (hoped-for) centennial voyage to Presidential Inaugural

December 1, 2012

Culver Academies students and Equestriennes (from left) Jackie Pentecost and Alena Nicholson select photos for letters written to their Senators and Congressmen encouraging support for Culver's participation in the Presidential Inaugural. Assisting, between the students, is Associate Equestrienne Coach Grace McKay and, seated, coach and choreographer of the Equestriennes -- and Assistant Dean of Girls -- Lynn Rasch.

Of course it's a matter of enormous significance each time Culver Academies' Black Horse Troop and Equestriennes prepare to march in the U.S. Presidential inaugural -- but this coming inaugural parade is especially meaningful, as it marks 100 years of Culver's participation in the event. And preparations are already underway.

Even though Culver hasn't yet been formally invited to the January event in Washington, D.C., preparations began last summer, according to Rick Tompos, co-chairman of the CUlver Inagural Parade Committee, which he helms with Tony Guarldi with major assistance from inaugural coordinator Emily Ryman. The invitation is expected in mid to late December (Culver has only not been invited once since 1957, and that was in 1993 for President Clinton's first inaugural parade).

Tompos says the preparation process is "pretty lock-step," and the committee benefits from plenty of notes, minutes, and information from prior trips, as well as a great deal of continuity in staff involved in the process (Tompos himself has been to two previous inaugurals, for example). There's probably more change within the inaugural committee lineup in D.C., in fact, than Culver's, though Tompos says he doesn't think there's a "huge break" in what that committee does, and which president takes office likely makes little difference.

In D.C., the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies initiates the overall process by sending a letter to Culver. The Joint Task Force-National Capital Region governs matters such as how each group is invited, their number in the parade, and so forth. The Presdential Inaugural Committee is also involved.

On Culver's end, head of schools John Buxton send out a letter in early October to parents outlining what's expected to happen, with the Culver inaugural committee of some 20 persons sending out its own letter as well.

Culver Academies has a formal budget set up for inaugurals, explains Tompos, though about half of the costs of the trip are covered by participating students.

"From past experience," Tompos continues, "we know we have to secure the hotel and transportation, and we have a Capital City Culver Club event so there's a dinner we need to secure a venue for. We have to secure the horse trailers to transport the horses, which is a completely separate process from the students. You have to start (in the fall) and if we don't get an invite, we could lose some deposits, so there's some risk."

The D.C. committee's application "goes live" in early October and is filled out by Culver and submitted along with a five minute video and photographs of past inaugural participation by the school. Of course the clip of the Troopers and Equestriennes (the latter group is comprised of Culver Girls Academy riders, while the Black Horse Troop is cadets from Culver Military Academy) passing by President and Mrs. Obama in 2009 was utilized for the video; in it, Michelle Obama appears to make a positive remark as she views the Culver students and horses.

Then, says Tompos, "the waiting begins."

While that's going on, all the potentially participating students write letters to senators and congressmen in their home states, while international students send letters to the state of Indiana, in hopes of legislators' assistance in garnering Culver an invitation to the inaugural. This is the first time, Tompos notes, the students have written the letters themselves rather than adult representatives of the Academies.

Of course, "splattered everywhere" are indications that this is Culver's 100th anniversary as an inaugural participant, with a special centennial logo in the works, an exhibit at the Culver Academies Museum & Gift Shop, and information detailing the history of the school's participation, on the agenda.

Following this year's presidential election, the Academies began mobilizing its constituent base of alumnae, parents, and board members, soliciting aid in any influence towards Culver receiving an invite.

"Our goal is to bombard them," Tompos says. "There's a lot of talking and connections we'll be making in the next couple of weeks."

If some on the inaugural committee are then forced to quietly wait, things aren't so quiet in the school's Horsemanship department. Over a year ago, the process of securing more black horses to add to Culver's stock of some 90 animals began. Special shoes are in the works for the horses since they'll be walking on a different type of surface than they're accustomed to, and of course intensive training is underway, both for horses and students.

Not all students in the horsemanship program will be able to participate in the parade itself, unfortunately, says Tompos.

"We ask for as many as we can, but (the inaugural committees in) D.C. will dictate the number."

Female students in Culver Academies' horsemanship program constitute about half the numbers as cadets, so that differentiation will be reflected proportionately in whatever the final number of student participants ends up being, Tompos notes.

All members of the Black Horse Troop and Equestriennes may attend and watch, regardless of whether they are actually able to ride, he adds. Those students' parents are also securing a venue from which to watch the parade. Many will watch on large-screen televisions from a comfortable (read: warm!) venue up to the point that Culver students are ready to join the procession. Once Culver is "up," parents, staff, and supporters will hit the parade route and cheer when Culver passes.

As anyone who's watched a presidential inaugural parade knows, the entire parade can take a long time (Culver, for example, appeared in the dark during the 2009 parade, so lengthy was the whole affair). But it's far, far longer for participants, who will arrive at the famous Willard Hotel in D.C. by 7 a.m. to prepare. Between the time they "mount up" to be ready for the call to actually enter the parade, and the conclusion of the parade itself, t's not unusual for Culver students to spend 10 hours on horseback in total on inaugural day, and many of those hours may be quite chilly.

As in years past, Culver residents can look for a "dress rehearsal" closer to the date of the great event right here in Culver, which takes place largely as a training exercise to help both students and horses become accustomed to street travel, crowds, and noises. And, as in the most recent inaugural, interested readers may get some sense of following along the students' journey to the inaugural via a blog accessible through the Academies' website at culver.org.

And hopefully, Culverites regardless of affiliation will have a chance, in a matter of weeks, to enjoy something few in America do: see their hometown represented before the entire world.

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