Veterans, music and more celebrate Memorial Day

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 3, 2014

 Members of the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps march during the St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade May 25.

Members of the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps march during the St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade May 25.

Photo by Sean Work

ST. CLAIR SHORES — With music, celebrities, student groups, and many veterans and military vehicles, the summer got off to a warm start with the 62nd annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade May 25.

“What’s really great is it is the 70th anniversary of Normandy and we have” veterans of the D-Day invasion in the parade, said Mayor Kip Walby. “It’s a long tradition and the committee’s fantastic. They work hard year-round to raise money to keep this parade going. Kudos to them for all their efforts in making this a great parade.”

Committee Chair Cheryl Furdos said everything went smoothly on parade day, with the first of about 150 entries stepping off on Harper Avenue around 1 p.m. and the last passing through 11 Mile Road around 4 p.m.

“It was awesome,” she said. “Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It was just a great day.”

Maureen Antushevich, chair of the St. Clair Shores Activities Committee, said this was the first year the committee had a float in the parade. Their float featured a band that will be playing in the summer concert series at Veterans Memorial Park and was advertising the second annual Country Music Fest, set for Aug. 2-3.

“The Memorial Day Parade kicks off summer,” she said. “We’re honored to be a part of it this year.”

This was also the first year for the MotorCity Greyhound Rescue to participate in the parade, and president Amy Klettner, of Ypsilanti, said she was surprised by how large it was. The group has foster homes for dogs throughout metro Detroit and Windsor.

Parade Committee member Dave Rubello said the 80,000-85,000 people who came to watch the parade made for the biggest crowd he’s ever seen line up for the annual event.

“It was a great tribute to those who have given their lives for this country, and it threw a wall of sound right down Harper,” he said. “Incredible amount of military entries, (and) we had a lot of music. We were dancing in the streets with Martha Reeves.”

Motown legend Reeves was in the parade for her second year with the Detroit Metro Area Musicians and Entertainers Association. This year, though, she was celebrating 50 years of her hit song with The Vandellas, “Dancing in the Streets.”

“It’s lovely, and the people are so kind when you pass by,” Reeves said.

Watching the parade, Denise Louwers said she was struck by how many veterans of the D-Day Normandy invasion they were able to include in the parade. This is the 70th anniversary of the pivotal World War II event.

“I think it’s one of the best things they could have done,” she said. “Time is running out for these veterans.”

Also sitting on the side of Harper Avenue, watching the festivities in his dress uniform, was 88-year-old Richard Gaca, of Sterling Heights, a veteran of the Marine Corps who served during World War II in Okinawa and later in China.

“This is great,” he said, explaining that he felt “lucky to see this.”

The parade judges, former Mayor Robert Hison, Nancy Hison and Judge Mark Fratarcangeli chose the winners of the 2014 parade: best color guard went to the St. Clair Shores Fire Department Color Guard; best patriotic went to Mancuso’s Florist’s float featuring Olympic gold medalist Mark Wells; best overall float went to Cub Scout Pack 1970; best special entry was awarded to Relay for Life; the South Lake High School/Middle School Marching Band took the award for best band; best overall entry went to Detroit Arsenal of Democracy; the Mayor’s Choice went to St. Germaine Catholic School; and Chairman’s Choice was awarded to MCC Rock Academy.

“It means a lot,”, said Marine Corp. veteran Larry Greiner, in the parade with the Fraternal Order of the Eagles 3619, located at Nine Mile Road and Greater Mack Avenue. “Honoring our heroes never can be done enough.”

Greiner served from 1977-1989 and said he hoped other veterans felt as supported by the parade’s tribute to them as he did.

This was the fourth year for Diane Runyon to be watching the St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade. She said it’s better, longer and has more music than many other local parades.

“I think it’s the best Memorial Day parade I’ve ever seen,” she said. “They’ve got so much into it. A lot of work goes into it.”

“We like the live entertainment — we love just watching everything,” said David Castillo, watching the parade for the first time.

Brian Jahimiak, of Chesterfield Township, and his family come to the parade each year to watch their niece march with the Lakeview High School band. But he said it’s one of the best he’s seen in the area.

He said he appreciated how much the parade honors veterans with tributes and military entries. Continuing that tradition is important, he said, “so they know where our freedom comes from.”