When drycleaner Paul Gelpi watches the halftime shows during Ohio State
University’s home football
games, he can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction.
In Columbus, college football is as big as it gets, and the performances put on
by the team’s marching
band during intermission are always jaw-dropping, crowd-pleasing spectacles.
“I’ve been going since I was a youngster,” he explained. “When the band takes the field I really do feel
proud. It’s kind of nice to sit there and know that we’ve cleaned every one of those great-looking band
There are about 350 uniforms altogether and Gelpi’s Swan Cleaners has been taking care of them for
over three decades.
“Ohio State came to us 30 years ago,” he recalled. “They had a dilemma about the band uniforms. The
kids used to be responsible to take care of them on their own. They were trying
to do something for the
kids so they came in and asked if we could help out in that regard.”
In more recent years, the job has become an even more special undertaking.
According to Gelpi, today’s
uniforms are better fitting, made of richer material and are a great deal nicer
That might be because the band has gained national notoriety by marching to the
beat of its own drums
in complex, moving patterns that must be seen in order to be truly appreciated.
(If you want to see them,
visit YouTube and type “Ohio State marching band” in the search engine.)
The videos, which have already amassed millions of views, feature formations
that range from walking
dinosaurs to Civil War tributes to Michael Jackson moonwalking and Superman
flying to the rescue.
The animated movements may be easy on the eyes, but each choreographed
production is certainly not
an easy feat. Band members use iPads to create, plan and execute the routines.
In fact, Apple featured the
band in a national ad campaign to demonstrate one of the many creative ways that
iPads can be utilized.
Even with the assistance of technology, perfection is a daunting goal. After
all, every note must be in
sync, every step must be precise and, of course, every uniform must be pristine.
Gelpi knows he cannot help the band with the first two matters, but his business
certainly can help with
“It’s a challenge to take care of them,” he noted. “The uniforms are well-worn and greatly exposed to
the elements: mud, rain, snow, ice, dirt, lots of perspiration and collar
staining… things like that.”
When the uniforms come in, they are inspected for missing buttons, broken
zippers, stretched elastic,
loose snaps, fallen hems, holes in the pockets and other imperfections before
they are repaired, spotted,
cleaned and pressed.
“We wind up having to resew and tighten a lot of buttons and replace a lot of
buttons on the jackets and
the pants,” Gelpi said. “The inner thigh parts of the pants get a lot of wear so we wind up sewing and
patching that. The metal buttons do better when we cover them. We’re kind of an old fashioned, traditional
cleaners. We still believe in covering delicate and important trim.”
Time is always of essence, too. A quick turnaround time is often required so the
band can be ready for
its next performance.
Even with a tight deadline, no short cuts can be taken since much extra work is
needed to maintain an
impeccable standard of quality. Fortunately, that is something Swan Cleaners has
tried to excel in ever
since Gelpi’s grandparents started the business in 1935.
That experience comes into play when dealing with the uniform’s white cross belts that can be a bit of a
“The cross belts go across the front of the uniforms and around the waist. They
are cotton,” he added.
“They get really, really dirty and we really have to go the extra mile to whiten
the cross belts up. They are
a lot of work.”
Gelpi believes all of the effort is worth it, though, because the marching band
has become embedded in
the hearts of the Columbus populace. In fact, they have been dubbed by the
locals as the “Best Damn
Band in the Land.”
When a local NBC news affiliate recently ran a story about Swan Cleaners taking
care of the uniforms,
the company became dubbed in the region as the “Best Damn Dry Cleaner in the Land.”
The recognition was nice, but Gelpi just enjoys having a hand in helping a group
that brings so much joy
“We’re really proud and we’re grateful to them for working with us,” he said. “We’re a part of something
that is a big part of the community.”