What could be more fun than a Fourth of July parade?
For most people, it means finding a shady spot, parking a lawn chair, and
waiting…and waiting…and waiting, until faint echoes of the band float down the
street and the military color guard appears. The crowd stands respectfully as
the red, white and blue goes by, then settles down for an hour and a half of
wheels and walkers, all decorated for the patriotic holiday.
DeWitt’s Fourth of July Parade offers both the predictable and the unpredictable. The unpredictability is built in because there are very few rules. In fact, there is only one rule: You show up; we tell you where to go. That’s it. We do strongly suggest that your entry be decorated in a patriotic manner. After all, this is not a cruise or a commercial; this is a celebration of America and everything that name conveys. DeWitt has always had a parade for this summer holiday. In the past, a chairman was chosen, invitations were mailed, ads were placed, registrations were solicited and received, each entry was given a number and, on the day of
the parade, lined up in numerical order. At the same time, the committee had
to find judges, a Master of Ceremonies, set up a viewing stand in Lincoln Park,
complete with a microphone and chairs. The judges and MC were supplied
with a list–in numerical order–of all the entries. And, at the end of the event,
prizes were awarded–procured by the committee, of course. As the years went by, it became harder and harder to find someone to chair the event. So a good Samaritan would volunteer, go through the whole rigamarole and decide once was enough.
The Prichards and the Schnepels, decided to take a turn. We wrote and stuffed
and licked and stamped and called –this was before email or cellphones were
common–then figured out where each entry should go, found the judges and
the prizes…it was a lot of work. Someone else took on the project the next year.
But then, when the city was once again looking for someone, Bim and I and
Marvin and Alice decided to host the parade again–and simplify it. Who
needs judges? Who needs prizes? We decided that prizes didn’t add anything
to the festivities, so we abolished them. If you don’t have prizes, you don’t
need judges. If you don’t have judges, you don’t need a Master of Ceremonies.
If you don’t need judges and an MC, you need neither a reviewing stand nor a
microphone, nor a script. Furthermore, since people didn’t care which entry
came first, second, or third, there was no need to assign numbers and no need
to put anybody in any particular order. Hence, our first and only rule: You show
up; we tell you where to go.
In no time at all, we eliminated all the work and kept all the fun. Just to be safe,
though, we meet weekly, just like the staff of the Rose Bowl parade. Saturday
morning breakfast is our traditional meeting time; the place has changed over
the years—Grand Mound, Low Moor, DeWitt, Welton, wherever a good
breakfast and lots of coffee are served. Discussion centers on theme, grand marshall, and parade route. The theme is the result of serendipity. Sometimes the grand marshall is chosen to go with the theme; other times the grand marshall is chosen as a representative of
something great that is happening in our community. The route depends on the
location of that summer’s street repairs. We made ourselves official by purchasing red t-shirts with the words “Parade Staff” stamped on the back. When our children were in college, they would bring their friends home to help direct the entries. Tammy Schnepel and Dawn
Hinrichs have not missed a single year.
We estimate that several thousand people line the streets to watch our parade,
no matter what the weather. We’ve never had to cancel because of rain. We
always have the high school band, we always have tractors, we always have
entries representing a business, a social justice issue, a high school class or a
family. The parade is really a great composite of DeWitt and its sister
communities. We have fire trucks from several counties and if we’re lucky, we
have horses. The last two entries are always the Prichard Pickup and the
Schnepel Golf Cart. By the time we drive the route, candy peppers the
pavement and little kids hold sacks full of sweets, still hoping for one more toss
We receive our reward as people wave at us and shout “thank you!” Then we
meet for breakfast on the next Saturday and start all over again!
Dianne Prichard – Parade Organizer