SMB Memories Inspires Giving

​Gift from MSU alumnus Gregory Holzhei provides scholarships for students in the Spartan Marching Band.    

Gregory Holzhei poses with the entire 2016 Spartan Marching Band trombone section prior to the Wisconsin home football game.
Leaders of the Spartan Marching Band pause for a moment with Gregory. Shown left to right; Glen Brough, Gregory Holzhei, David Thornton, and John Madden.

Gregory Holzhei says the eclectic mix of music he plays in his car, office, or home has a calming effect on his life. But he admits he sometimes wants to get up and march when he hears a particular song.

“Every time I hear Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park’ it takes me back to when I marched at Spartan Stadium the very first time,” says Holzhei, an alumnus of the MSU Spartan Marching Band. “I still remember the songs we played and how my mom and sister came to see me march onto the field.”

That day, says Holzhei, is permanently etched into his memory and helps fuel his devotion to MSU and the SMB. He remembers, too, how being a band member provided a strong social foundation and secured his path toward medical school. For that, he says, he is thankful, and why he broadened his philanthropy to include a new endowed scholarship in the MSU College of Music.

In spring of 2016, the doctor of family practice medicine established the Dr. Gregory Holzhei Endowed Scholarship in the Spartan Marching Band. His hope is two-fold: Provide financial assistance for one or two SMB undergrads a year, and to reinforce the passion that drives the band.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to do things for other people,” says Holzhei. “My career is about trying to help others. 

This endowment provides a way for me to support students and give back to the Spartan Marching Band for years to come.”

Spartan Marching Band Director John Madden concurred that Holzhei’s gift will make an enormous difference to a student by easing some of the financial pressures of collegiate life.

“Greg’s gift ensures that a talented young instrumentalist will now have the opportunity to participate in the Spartan Marching Band," Madden says. "His generosity is a testament to his care and affection for MSU and his love of the band experience. I remain indebted to him, and to the many others who have given generously to help us continue the tradition of one of MSU’s great hallmarks: the Spartan Marching Band.”

A march to give

Holzhei grew up the son of a teacher, MSU Spartan, and part-time farmer in St. Johns, Mich. He worked summers helping his family grow corn and beans and peas, and realized early on that farming wasn’t his future.

While he didn’t inherit a love of the fields, he did acquire a love for music via the perpetual soundtrack his father piped into the home. As soon as he could, Holzhei took up a band instrument at school, and started playing trombone in 6th grade. 

In high school, Holzhei joined the St. Johns marching band. His passion was reinforced when the SMB came to visit and performed on his school’s home turf.

“My band director at the time had been in the Spartan Marching Band, and he mentioned it to me,” says Holzhei. “Some classmates before me had become members, too, so I decided to audition.”

Holzhei auditioned and was accepted to the band his senior year at St. Johns, cinching his decision to attend MSU in the fall of 1989. Four years later, he earned his bachelor’s in science and medical technology. He says being in the SMB lessened the daily stress of working and studying, and provided an outlet with a core group of friends.

“I lived with five other trombonists my senior year at MSU,” he recalls. “We developed these lifelong friendships. We keep in touch and still tailgate to this day.”

A collection Spartan Marching Band photos from the 90s: Left, Gregory Holzhei in the foreground; middle, second row center; right, posing with fellow band member Nicole Ohl-Shwan.

The march toward home

After graduating MSU, and going on to complete his medical degree out-of-state, Holzhei returned to Michigan for his residency at Garden City Hospital. Ultimately, he returned to his hometown to work as a family physician. He had missed his family and friends and the familiar surrounds of St. Johns. He had also missed the Spartans.

Securing season tickets, Holzhei reconnected with the Spartan community and his friends from the band. He became a supporter and sponsor of the SMB, and occasionally played in the alumni band.

“Being part of that experience began to grow on me again,” says Holzhei. “I remembered what it was like to be a student, and thought it would be really cool to be able to set up a scholarship to help someone.”

Holzhei took the next step and contacted the MSU College of Music about establishing an endowment. His gift complements his other MSU giving, as well as the various community and educational programs he supports in St. Johns.

“We are grateful to Dr. Holzhei whose philanthropy will contribute to the quality of life for talented and worthy MSU undergraduates in perpetuity,” says Dean James Forger of the College of Music. “His gift will help support the cost of their education while they develop their musical skills and serve the university as a member of the great Spartan Marching Band. Go Green!”

For information on how you can support the College of Music students and programs, or to learn how to establish a named endowment please contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development for the College of Music, at or by calling 517-353-9872.

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