CONCORD, CA (Feb. 20, 2022) — Concord has gained national and international notoriety for many things, from the Concord Pavilion and all the spectacular events held there over the past five decades to being the birthplace of Academy Award winner Tom Hanks. And the city even got some unwelcome publicity for its notorious Spirit Poles.
But the city has never had a better ongoing ambassador bringing pride and glory to Concord than the Blue Devils, marching arts organization.
The co-founder of the Blue Devils, Ann Odello died Jan. 30 at the age of 93. She started the Blue Devils with her late husband Tony in late 1957 after a meeting with two dozen interested youngsters and parents in the living room of their Concord home.
From that beginning, three generations of Odello’s have and still are involved with the Blude Devils, the 19-time World Champions considered the New York Yankees of the drum and bugle corps world.
The passing of Ann Odello came as the organization is looking to get back training young people and competing against the best corps around the country. This is the 65th year of the Blue Devils and hopes are high they will be able to train, travel and compete after two years interrupted by the pandemic.
Ann Odello was born and raised in San Ramon, the youngest of eight brothers and sisters. Shortly after World War II she met Tony Odello, just returned from service in General Patton’s army on the European front. They wed in 1948 and remained married for 61 years until Tony’s passing in 2009.
The marriage brought the births of daughter Annette and sons Rick and Tony Jr. as well as the legacy they created in the Blue Devils.
A young Annette wanted to twirl baton. Her parents were active in the local VFW, which was sponsoring Concord area twirling groups, and they used that connection and experience to create the Blue Devils. A year after starting in 1957 the Blue Devils added a drum and bell corps, that along with the twirling group, would win nearly every contest and parade entered.
In 1961 there was the addition of a color guard and in 1970 the addition of bugles. Two years after that the Blue Devils had their first out-of-state tour. They won their first of 19 Drum Corps International World Championships in 1976 and Ann Odello was there each step of the way.
In a newspaper interview in 2009, she reminisced how they started the Blue Devils to give local youth a wholesome activity. “We used to save scrap metal and deliver to Oakland in the truck to raise money. It was just family and a few friends” she shared.
“We were never home on weekends! I mean, period. My house was always dirty, and I never had time to do the dishes. Beds were never made. I didn’t have time to do that. But it was worth it.” The Odello home was open to all at all times, their swimming pool was constantly packed with Blue Devil members, and they became second parents to many, often taking a group camping with them on a rare weekend off.
Blue Devil’s legacy
The Odello family has remained deeply invested in the Blue Devils. Their daughter Annette has led the Blue Devil C Corps color guard for decades while co-founding and leading the Blue Devils Special Needs Guard. Her influence on the Blue Devil’s legacy of excellence in twirling, color guard and education cannot be overstated.
Son Tony Jr. was a key part of the development of the Blue Devil drum line’s dominance in the late 1960s and 1970s and son Rick was a critical part of the Blue Devils competitive successes and meteoric rise in the 1970s as a member, instructor and designer. He was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 2008.
Rick Odello went on to lead and re-energize the B Corps for 14 years starting in 2004, an era that saw them win five DCI Open Class Championships, at the same time leading the beloved and important Blue Devil C Corps from 2001 to his retirement just this year, introducing thousands of young children to music, performance and the Blue Devils.
“Mom was one of a kind and as tough as they come” says Rick. “She would never hesitate to tell it like it is but would always be there for love and support.”
Ann Odello’s legacy goes beyond her three children, as daughter-in-law Debbie (Milina) joined the Blue Devils in 1969, taught the A, B and C corps for years, was at her husband Rick’s side managing the B and C corps throughout the 2000s and worked full-time in the Blue Devils office in a multitude of capacities until her retirement in 2020.
Grandsons Ryan, Adam, Ricky and Andrew were members of the Blue Devil A, B and C corps (and each won a DCI Championship during their time in the A corps), were deeply active as instructors for the B and C corps, and to this day still perform and help manage the organization’s BD Entertainment ensembles. There are seven great-grandchildren and few doubt that they too will someday become a part of the Blue Devils, carrying on the love of the organization that Ann Odello embodied.
“My Nonna loved completely, spoke strongly and lived independently” says grandson Ryan Odello. “She was a force of nature without ever trying to be. I will forever miss her care and confidence.”
Those wishing to donate to the Blue Devils in Ann Odello’s memory can do so by visiting bluedevils.org.
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.