Walter A. Mestrezat (1857-1942)
Walter A. Mestrezat was an accomplished musician, military veteran, and founder of the West Virginia University Marching Band. Mestrezat served in the Spanish American War, and was also a teacher at the then Conservatory of Music (now the School of Music) at West Virginia University.
Backstory and Context
Walter A. Mestrezat was born in Greensboro, Pennsylvania in 1857. He was an accomplished musician, and his primary instrument was the coronet. His father was Charles Mestrezat, who served in the Civil War. Walter Mestrezat was a teacher at West Virginia University's Conservatory of Music (now the School of Music). Mestrezat served in several different regiments during the Spanish American War. The first noted was the 1st Regiment of West Virginia Volunteers. He served as the Chief Musician for about a year, then went on to serve as the Chief Musician of the 30th Regiment of the United States.
Mestrezat was mustered out – a type of honorable discharge – in 1901. His character upon discharge was excellent, and his service was described as honest and faithful. However, Mestrezat's discharge was short lived as he reenlisted and was sent overseas for the Philippine Insurrection, where he served again as Chief Musician. During this time, he wrote a series of letters back to Morgantown newspaper The New Dominion. The letters were entitled "From Mestrezat" and covered everything from what it was like getting shot at, to the rations those enlisted were being served.
Mestrezat is also credited with being the first director of what is now the Pride of West Virginia Mountaineer Marching Band. The band started out as an eight man Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) band. The band's members became eleven when non-ROTC men were allowed to join, but they did not receive the same benefits as the ROTC members. Unhappy with this, the non-ROTC men broke off and formed a rebel band. The newly formed band had received permission from Mestrezat and the athletic director to perform at halftime shows at football games, but the University squelched this by stating they must be an official student organization. The men of the rebel band formed what is now the Omicron chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity. The two bands merged into one band a few years later.
“Walter A. Mestrezat Family Papers” In Walter A. Mestrezat Papers, A&M 1538. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia & Regional History Center, West Virginia University Wise Library. "Band History." WVU Marching Band. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://wvuband.org/about_the_band/marching-band-history.html.
West Virginia & Regional History Center. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/034385.
West Virginia & Regional History Center. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/033425.
West Virginia & Regional History Center. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/023043.