1987: The Beat Goes on For Julie Kuhlken

Highland Park’s first female drum major is now a professor

By Meredith Shamburger | Special Contributor

Julie Kuhlken has come a long way since 1987, when she was Highland Park High School’s first female drum major. She teaches in Dallas.

Dallas, Pa., that is. Kuhlken is a philosophy professor at Misericordia University.

“I think I’m the only one who works here that’s actually lived in Dallas, Texas,” she said. “I joke that I went from Dallas to Dallas.”

Julie Kuhlken 1987
Julie Kuhlken appeared in Park Cities People's Jan. 1, 1987 edition in a photograph that showed the drum major in action.

Kuhlken appeared in Park Cities People’s Jan. 1, 1987 edition in a photograph that showed the drum major in action. But while she made history as the first woman to hold that position, she said it was never much of a big deal.

“It wasn’t like there was this enormous push for there to be a female drum major,” she said. “I just happened to be interested in the role and, you know, there was an open tryout.”

Kuhlken recalls competing for the spot against two guys.

“At that time and in that context, I was the best person for the job,” she said.

“There was a point, and it was really before I was part of the band, where it was sort of a masculine thing or a guy thing, because the women were more likely to be in the Bagpipes,” she said. “But I would say that had ended by the time that I was thinking of becoming drum major. It was a very co-ed group.”

After her graduation, Kuhlken went to Stanford University. She received bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and art history and a master’s degree in education.

Kuhlken put those degrees to use as a graphic artist at an educational software company in Los Altos, Calif., but after a while she decided to get a doctorate. That required a second language, and she chose French.

But Kuhlken had never studied the language before, so she decided to go to the Sorbonne. Not only would she be able to learn French faster, but Kuhlken could have the study-abroad experience she never had time for as an undergraduate.

“I had saved up some money while working,” she said. “I would use that to sort of have this experience I could never have as a college student.”

Julie Kuhlken
Now a resident of Dallas, Pa., Julie Kuhlken was the first female drum major at Highland Park High School - and the 1987 valedictorian.

Kuhlken’s decision had a big impact: She met her future husband, Fredrik Osterberg, in France and ended up staying in Europe for 10 years. They later moved to London, where Kuhlken worked toward her philosophy Ph.D. at Middlesex University while Fredrik worked in the banking industry.

The couple had two little girls and left the United Kingdom for Austin in 2005, because, as Kuhlken explained, “London is not a good place for children.” It was in Austin that Fredrik and Kuhlken’s brother, David, started Pedernales Cellars, a winery.

They’re still making wine today, although Kuhlken said her brother is in charge of the actual operations. Fredrik is in charge of the financial side and does that from their Pennsylvania home.

Kuhlken said they’ve thought about moving back to Texas, “but for now, we’re here and we’re very happy.”

Although she originally majored in very different subjects, Kuhlken found an interest with a part of philosophy called aesthetics. It was that discipline that attracted her to Misericordia. Kuhlken has also expanded her research into environmental ethics.

“Obviously, I think the odd turn my life took is that I ended up in Europe for such a long time,” she said. “That was nothing I ever expected.”

Meredith Shamburger is an SMU journalism student and a People Newspapers intern.


On Feb. 25, the NCAA announced that SMU’s football program had received the “death penalty” for recruiting violations after a WFAA-TV report alleged payoffs from boosters to former player David Stanley.

On June 28, George L. Clark of Highland Park, the Rev. V. Creath Davis of University Park, Dr. Trevor E. Mabrey, and Hugo W. Schoellkopf III of University Park were all killed when a twin-engine Cessna carrying them home from a religious retreat crashed in Shoshone National Forest.

The October cover of Seventeen featured Highland Park High School sophomore Angie Harmon, who beat out 63,000 other girls for the photo shoot — and won a 1987 Pontiac Fiero. Harmon would go on to further fame and fortune playing assistant district attorney Abbie Carmichael on NBC’s Law & Order.

In August, Chuck Rohre stepped down as director of the Highland Park Department of Public Safety to become Plano’s chief of police. Three months later, Darrell Fant, 35, was named Rohre’s replacement. Fant would stay in the position until 2008.

Valedictorian: Julie Kuhlken
Salutatorian: Laura Bourland
Blanket Award winners: Chrissie Shelmire and Alan Stotts
Homecoming queen: Molly Davenport

Cary-Elisa Briggle, Gretchen Clara Cowden, Edna Elizabeth Ellsberry, Allison Kathleen Galt Hall II, Jane deDoliete Kidd, Julie Meadows Lancaster, Ann Blaine Maguire, Melinda Ambler Maguire, Elizabeth Winfield Oldham, Margaret Lewis Oldham, Anne Allison Pickens, Margaret Sulton Shelmire, Mary Rowland Sowell, Nancy Elizabeth Weichsel, Nancy Lee White, Margaret Anne Worsham, Nancy Adele Wynne

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