Our History

12 Years of the Tahoe Sierra Century

Whether it’s solving a vexing parenting issue or just figuring out dinner, Kathy Brown’s best ideas emerge while she’s pedaling her bike on the roads of Tahoe. So it stands to reason that this is just where Brown was over a decade ago when a fundraising notion put her volunteer impulse into high gear.

“I was riding my bike one day and I thought: ‘Why don’t we do one big event that would bring in a lot of money for the music programs, instead of putting on several smaller events?’” recalled Brown, the mother of three North Tahoe High School music program alums.

Thus, the Tahoe Sierra Century Ride was born. In the past twelve years, the supported 100-mile road bicycle ride has raised over $296,000 for the combined school music programs, and has provided an exciting tour of North Tahoe’s best riding roads for 6,000+ cyclists. The ride, which begins and ends in Squaw Valley, offers participants 100, 60, and 30-mile options that take century riders all the way to the top of Donner Summit and to Cisco Grove.

Musical mojo does not come cheap. It takes approximately $30,000 a year to run the much-esteemed North Tahoe School and North Tahoe High School music programs. The sheet music alone has a $7,000 annual price tag.

“As a parent I was so grateful for the programs, which were and are an asset to the community and the shining stars of our schools,” said Brown. “But even back then our schools were facing funding challenges.”

The music programs are funded by the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District general fund, Measure A, Excellence in Education, and the FAN club, a parent fundraising arm. But like many public school arts programs, there always seems to be a shortfall, and this is the gap that Brown and fellow volunteers sought to fill with the Tahoe Sierra Century Ride.

Brown, a frequent organized ride participant herself, knew that such an event in Tahoe could potentially draw in hundreds of people from outside the area. But first, Tahoe Sierra Century Ride organizers had to face numerous hurdles, including navigating the convoluted world of permitting with organizations like the U.S. Forest Service, CalTrans, and local counties.

2009-12 ride director Nancy Lancaster acknowledges the heavy lifting of her predecessors.

“It took at least a year for me to fully realize the magnitude of this great project and the infinite hours already invested by Kathy Brown,” Lancaster said. “I see their hard work all year as I plan each year’s ride and am thankful to have been a part of this great local fundraiser.”

Brown and the other volunteers’ hard work has paid off, as their efforts have helped keep the schools’ music programs alive, exposing a large number of students to the world of musical instruments, reading notes, and working together to create art.
“For entering middle schoolers it’s really not a question of if you are going to join the band, the question is what instrument will you be playing,” explained band parent Sue Rae Irelan.

Roughly two-thirds of the middle school students play an instrument. North Tahoe School band director Lena Meyer teaches five band classes and runs two jazz bands.

“One of the great things about my job is that I get to know the kids for three years, and I really get to see them improve from their first day as a 6th grade beginner to the last concert of 8th grade,” Meyer said.

The high school band program includes an award-winning jazz band, a jazz ensemble, a wind ensemble, and a symphonic band. Dean Nordby, a North Tahoe grad, spent 11 years as director for the middle school and the past 15 at the high school.

“It’s always been a very strong part of the community,” Nordby said. “When I was 17 years old I said I wanted to be a director at a small school like North Tahoe. Little did I know that it would actually be North Tahoe.”

Like Meyer, Nordby also boasts impressive numbers. According to national studies, an outstanding band program involves 11 percent of a student body. At North Tahoe, 33 percent of the students are in the band program.

“It’s a positive experience for the kids; there are no benchwarmers,” Nordby said. “Everyone is involved, and everyone matters.”  

North Tahoe 2011 graduate Luke Funicella, 21, says his band experience translated into the real world.

“I’m still studying music in college so I’m using everything I learned in the band program every day,” says the Cabrillo College music student. “Besides the music, I learned how to manage my time a lot better.”

NTHS Principal Joanna Mitchell said the music program is an integral part of the school culture: “The program infuses our school with a positive energy that motivates all students to high levels of achievement and instills us all with a great sense of pride.”

Nordby, like so many people involved with the North Tahoe band program, is thankful for the Tahoe Sierra Century Ride financial support.

“We were really hurting before the Tahoe Sierra Century Ride,” he said. “It’s crucial to our success.”

 ~ Writer Ann Lindemann is a parent of a North Tahoe High School band member. She is an unabashed supporter of North Tahoe’s tradition of musical excellence.