Soon, the street outside Village Hall— where Skokie’s Fourth of July Parade planning committee met earlier this month — will be loaded with patriotic music, vibrant colors, floats and many other festivities.
The parade kicks off at noon July 4, from Oakton Community College, 7701 N. Lincoln Ave. It will travel down Lincoln Avenue to Niles Center Road and head east on Oakton where it will end at Oakton Park.
But in order to make that celebratory sensory overload happen, there had to be less exciting meetings just like this one, and there had to be dedicated volunteers willing to put in time and effort to take care of both the big and small details just like these folks.
“We started from scratch this year,” new Fourth of July Parade Committee Chairman Alan Gerstner told a couple dozen of his troops. “You guys have helped me and helped the community, and I wanted to thank you for all your hard work.”
Gerstner and village officials said they wanted to take the parade in a new direction, and they promise that this is the beginning of a new era. The most noticeable addition to this year’s parade is Skokie’s first celebrity grand marshal (Skokie had a local grand marshal from the military years ago).
On the day of the planning meeting, Stolte had emailed the committee saying that his family is excited about the role they’ll assume on the Fourth of July.
A somewhat bumpy changing of the guard in overseeing the parade was announced early in the year, when the weather was a lot colder and the Fourth of July felt far away.
After more than 25 years as parade chairperson, Fern Katz stepped down and Gerstner, a member of the parade committee under Katz for years, was handed the chairmanship.
Katz had complained that she was disrespected and poorly treated by the village, leaving her no choice but to resign.
Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge told the Skokie Review in January that some people who had been part of the parade committee requested that changes be made. Katz had talked about resigning, he said, and “we took her up on her offer.”
Gerstner has also served as president of the Skokie School District 68 School Board, chairman of the Skokie Human Relations Commission and is currently a member of the Skokie Caucus Party Board and vice chairman of the Skokie Zoning Board of Appeals.
When the planning committee meeting was held earlier this June, volunteers had nailed down 63 units for the parade, but that number has increased since then and approaches 70, volunteers said. Gerstner said he initially thought 35 or 40 units would be a good number for the first year.
The committee has reached out to new sponsors as well, making contact with businesses that have not been involved in the parade in past years, Gerstner said.
The list of sponsors for the Fourth of July Parade include the old and the new: the village and the Skokie Park District, First Bank & Trust and Lakeshore Recycling Systems, MB Financial Bank and Buffalo Wild Wings, Martin Nissan and Evanston Subaru, Holiday Inn North Shore and Enterprise Rent-A-Car; the Curaugh Irish Pub and the Walking Company.
Committee member Gayle Weinhouse was still bringing in new sponsors as the days to the parade were growing short. Other announced sponsors include Cagan Management Group, Fitness Defined, Jazzercise, Sherman Dodge and a grant from the Rice Foundation.
Volunteers also have to address a plethora of questions and headaches that come up when any group takes on an event of this magnitude.
Is spray chalk a good alternative for pavement markings? What to do about an out-of-town drum and bugle corps that needs lodging and doesn’t want to check out until 10 p.m. to accommodate its next gig? (That proved possible — especially since everything parade-oriented had to be cleaned up and cleared away by the time the fireworks display is held at Niles West High School).
One issue this year’s parade organizers do not have to worry about, however, is the CTA Yellow Line train crossing Oakton and dividing the parade lineup. Perhaps the Fourth of July will be the only day of the summer when the projected five-month shutdown of the Yellow Line will be viewed as good news for the community.
“We still have a couple of weeks of down and dirty work,” Gerstner told the group at the end of the meeting. “But on the 5th of July, we’re going to be sitting back and smiling and the mayor is going to say, ‘Wow, that was a great parade.”
The Fourth of July Parade Committee is looking for volunteers and accepting sponsors. For more information about the parade, go to http://www.skokie4th.org.