Sharon Merlino-Kurczewski and Vince Kurczewski fell in love with each other before they even knew it. They met as Mummers. Sharon was 11; Vince was 13. It was winter and the place was the annual Show of Shows where the String Bands perform indoors a couple of months after the New Year’s Day Parade. Sharon was a young girl with Trilby String Band; Vince, a teen with Duffy String Band. Back stage at the Show of Shows kids tend to hang out together and it’s a time when they meet other young people who they otherwise wouldn’t run across. So it was with Sharon and Vince. Well, a couple of years later Sharon went over to Duffy and they got to know each other better, but still they didn’t acknowledge for a long time what would eventually be. They drifted apart after high school. Vince joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a Petty Officer 2nd Class cook. (Says Sharon today, “BOY OH BOY can he cook.”) Years later, Sharon and Vince would find each other and get married, sealing a relationship owed to Mummery and, really, to Sharon’s father, Anthony Merlino.
Anthony knew Sharon had musical ability but at age 11, she also needed quality instruction. Sharon admits, “I needed lessons outside of high school and my father introduced me to Herbie Smith.” The one and only Herb Smith, of Fralinger, taught Sharon flute and saxophone and also connected her to the String Bands. The path was set. The Show of Shows beckoned.
More than a quarter of a century after they first met, Vince is a manager with an asphalt company; Sharon is a CAT Scan technologist at Methodist Hospital and is known for her charity work. Sharon plays alto and tenor saxophone with Hegeman String Band and Vince now plays sax with Polish American String Band.
Their 3 children have been raised with Mum music and in at least one case, almost born with it. Sharon marched up Broad Street while six months pregnant with Briana. (There she was above with her father and to the right that’s little Briana.) “The drive and the motivation wanting to do this hobby doesn’t stop you from being a mommy,” says Sharon. New Year’s is a hectic time for the Kurczewski’s but also a time to put aside wordly worries, to spend time together as a family and entertain hundreds of thousands of people. 13–year-old Briana plays the flute and piccolo and is doing well with the saxophone. This year, she was in costume with her mom for the first time. That’s important to Sharon and she thinks of her father, who not only got her involved in Mummery, but also went up the street with her for years.
She says, “I would not be involved in the hobby and it is his constant interest that made it always a family-oriented activity. Now, I can pass it on to my kids. I want to thank him for that.” Sharon adds, “Oh, and thanks to my Mom (Brenda) for supporting me as well, driving and helping with the props.” Vince Kurczewski says, “If you say you are a Mummer, no matter what band or organization you’re in, you’re family. Briana already gets the family importance. She says, “(The Mummers Parade) is not just for competition. It’s also for fun and I think it brings me and mom and my family together more.” Brother Vincent, the III, sings. Bobby plays clarinet but also is eyeing the sax and is learning with Polish American. Says Bobby, “What I like best about being a Mummer is I get to go up Broad Street every year and listen to the band play their instruments and I get a good education in music.”
“It brings people together,” says Vince, who adds, “In a short period of time it helps them forget about all their difficulties in life.” Like most of us, a share of the world’s worries have occasionally visited Vince and Sharon. Anthony has been seriously ill of late. But amid the struggles, they strut on, raising wonderful kids, serving their community and proving everyday what great people Mummers are. And this year, their wedding anniversary, February 27th, falls on the same date as the Show of Shows. Mummery has brought Sharon and Vince together, but THEY give Mummery its meaning. Hey, Anthony, look at what you started. Quite a gift, Dad.