Family affair: Stage set for parade
Excuse Lansing resident Dona Thibault and her sister, Darlene Kenney, for not being available at noon Friday; as has been the case on St. Patrick's Day the past 22 years, they have a prior commitment.
The two will be in Leavenworth for the 23rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. This year's grand marshal will be Father David McEvoy, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church and St. Joseph Church in Leavenworth.
For the sisters, participation in the parade is a family tradition that rekindles fond memories of their father, one of the parade's co-founders.
Tom Viessman, their father, and his friend Tom Scanlon came up with the idea for the parade in 1982, Thibault said, and on St. Patrick's Day 1983, the parade was born. The first year, Viessman was a member of the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree honor guard, which led the "official" start of the parade, just behind marching dignitaries.
Though Viessman has since died, the Fourth Degree honor guard continues the tradition that started in that first parade.
"Every time I see them, it brings tears to my eyes," Kenney said. "They march in his memory."
This year, the Knights will lead a parade of upwards of 100 units, which will march, ride and drive their way through downtown Leavenworth beginning at noon.
The parade begins at Fourth and Choctaw streets, where it winds its way to Cherokee Street, the Esplanade, Delaware Street to Seventh Street, back to Cherokee and ending at Fifth Street and Choctaw.
Thibault is a relative newcomer to helping organize the parade. She's been at it "only" for about 17 years; Kenney has been on the organizing committee for the parade's entire 23 years.
"We were just talking about that tonight," Kenney said, "And never in our wildest dreams did we think it would grow into this. : It's a big celebration for the entire community."
Added Thibault, "It's a great day - and all of the money we raise above and beyond expenses goes to charity."
The sisters say a committee of about nine people puts in most of the behind-the-scenes work for the parade, each year signing up participants, getting sponsors and raising money for the parade's charities, the St. Vincent Clinic, Leavenworth Assistance Center and the Alliance Against Family Violence.
"It's really a great feeling," Kenney said. "We've been able to raise more than $30,000 for charity in the parade's first 22 years."
The parade committee doesn't charge an entry fee; instead it leaves it up to participants whether to donate to the cause. The committee does conduct an annual raffle in conjunction with the parade and sells T-shirts to boost its charitable donations and pay for expenses, Kenney said.
As in years past, Thibault and Kenney said they couldn't wait for the parade - rain or shine.
"It's so wonderful to see all of the families with family floats, and how dedicated they are each year to participating in the parade," Kenney said. "Plus, it's just great to see how many people there are lining the parade route. It's just grown immensely."