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College friends band together for funeral

University of Minnesota Marching Band members arrive at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar Thursday afternoon for the funeral service of fourth-year band member Robert Brau.Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

WILLMAR — The tour bus arrived at the church 45 minutes before the service for Robert Brau, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota senior-to-be who had died a week to the day returning from the Twin Cities to his hometown.

On the bus were 45 members of the Golden Gophers Marching Band. At least another 10 band members would arrive by car.

“More would have come,” said Tim Diem, U of M assistant director of bands and director of the marching band. “They knew the church would be full already. There are plans for an on-campus memorial service, perhaps the first week in September.”

Diem indicated the 2011 Willmar High School graduate was special “with friends all over.”

Band members insisted on attending the funeral. “I told them, you sign up and I’ll find a way to get you there.” It took a while to find an available coach, being State Fair time.

“Everyone knew that Robert was a good guy to seek out,” Diem continued. “He was the morale guy, always in a good mood. He was looked up to as a big brother by younger members.”

Diem has been in the Minnesota bands program for 15 years, the past 10 as marching band director. He said there had never been a tragedy like this in that time, though a band member some years ago died of leukemia.

“This was so sudden,” he said.

Brau was headed home on U.S. Highway 12, near Montrose, when the accident occurred. The State Patrol stated that criminal charges may be filed against the 17-year-old driver of the car that crossed the center line striking Brau’s motorcycle.

Brau, who had attended summer school, was planning a short visit with his parents, Terry and Donna, before returning to Minneapolis for the three-day leadership retreat.

Diem’s connections to the Brau family are especially deep. Diem did his student teaching at the junior high in Willmar when Terry, now a  high-school band instructor, was the seventh-grade band instructor.

Robert, a third-generation musician who played six instruments, performed on the mellophone — a hybrid French horn — in the marching band, but the guitar was said to be his first love and, indeed, his major was Classical Guitar Performance.

The Ohio State Marching Band sent flowers. Others around the Big 10 also reached out to Diem to express their sorrow.

“I just heard from Michigan State today,” he said. “The entire Big 10 has responded. Band kids are band kids. We all like each other; some just cheer for the wrong team.”

Robert had called the marching band his “Family away from home.” Soon the U of M Marching Band heads into the football season with a heavy heart and a family member short.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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