Blue skies and a balmy 72 degrees UH point of view

Some childhood memories are like the cozy blanket and cup of hot chocolate that make us feel comfy on chilly, dull grey winter afternoons. I discovered that saying three small words, “Memorial Day Parade,” to University Heights neighbors brings smiles to their faces. You can just see their minds beating a path to the treasure chest of memories of past parades.

Even the most reticent enjoy sharing their stories. Typically, the day is a balmy 72 degrees, the sun is shining and the sky is clear and blue. Or, “You wouldn’t believe the downpour that started while we were in line for the 25-cent hot dogs they were selling.”

Decorated bicycles is a big one: “I have a very strong childhood memory of decorating my bike every year, riding it up to Jackson with my dad and my brothers, riding in the parade, and then ending up at JCU for a judging contest. My memory is that lots of us did this in University Heights and that it was a lot of fun.” 

A couple who now have grandchildren coming to the parade warned, “Don’t change a thing! It’s great the way it is.” Guess what? Within minutes they were suggesting possible new marching units for the parade. This happens a lot, too.

Can you believe, this will be our 45th Memorial Day Parade? The parade starts near city hall and ends on the “parade grounds” of John Carroll University. The 45th will be extra special with JCU celebrating its 125th anniversary. 

Several parade professionals said our parade is one of the best attended in the area. We don’t have the huge balloons of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the fancy flower floats of the Rose Bowl Parade. So what’s the secret? Our small-town feeling of community is the not-so-secret secret.

Individuals and families from all 1.9 square miles of our city look forward to this parade. We come out to the parade route with lawn chairs, blankets, friends and family from out of town and, the family dog, of course, to experience one of the most moving holidays of our nation, Memorial Day, and enjoy that great symbol of Americana, the hometown parade. 

Lined up along the parade route with our neighbors, we wave flags and chat with friends. Young children, in their front-row seats on the curb, watch wide-eyed as bands, fire trucks, drummers, colorful flags, and-let’s not forget- the candy, all parade past them. The children sitting on the curbs on May 30, will grow up to have their own special memories of this event.

My first real parade was on July 4, 1976. I was living in a one-room studio near the Baldwin Filtration Plant while earning my MBA. A classmate invited me to Farwood Drive in Moreland Hills to their parade and cookout. Living on a nearly nonexistent food budget, I went. At first, I laughed. The parade was only children and families marching around the few streets of that little community. 

The children rode decorated bicycles and tricycles. Younger ones were pulled in decorated Red Flyer wagons. Children beating drums and exercising their God-given right to make music on kazoos made up the band. We stood before the flag of the United States and said the Pledge of Allegiance. 

It may not have happened exactly that way, but it is my memory, the one I cherish. I say “real” parade because everyone had a role, even those of us watching and waving to the marchers. To borrow a famous phrase from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it was a parade “of the people, by the people, for the people.

For the past 29 years, my hometown parade has been right here. That is what we do in University Heights, keep our Memorial Day Parade a hometown parade. It will be months before the Canada geese head back north, but University Heights is already gearing up for its 45th Memorial Day Parade.

Residents have already begun sending in suggestions: the Honors Ceremony platform, have a table on where all residents can place photos of veterans who served our country; invite Gospel choirs, steel drum band, and marching band representing the ethnic groups in our city; have more ethnic food vendors on the parade grounds; DJ; and a return the bicycle judging contest. Add your ideas here.

The parade committee invites you -- your ideas, thoughts, memories and enthusiasm -- to share in making the 45th Memorial Parade as special as the others. Join us. Meetings are held once a month; contact me for the next meeting date. And remember, the forecast for May 30 is blue skies and a balmy 72 degrees.

Anita Kazarian is a marketing professional, founder of Noah’s Landing, LLC and the parade chair for the University Heights 45th Memorial Day Parade. Contact her at anitakazarian@gmail.com.

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Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 9:03 AM, 01.23.2011