Holiday parade means Santa’s on his way

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 17, 2015

 Santa Claus receives the key to the Grosse Pointes at the end of the 2004 Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade.

Santa Claus receives the key to the Grosse Pointes at the end of the 2004 Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade.

File photo by Roy Feldman

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GROSSE POINTE CITY/FARMS — As the Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade marks its 40th anniversary this year, many of the parents who’ll be bringing their wide-eyed kids to watch for Santa Claus are the same ones who lined the parade route in those early years as wide-eyed kids themselves.

The parade will start at 10 a.m. Nov. 27 — the day after Thanksgiving — at Lewiston Road and Kercheval Avenue in Grosse Pointe Farms, making its way a little over a mile to Kercheval and Cadieux Road in Grosse Pointe City.

This is the third year that the parade has been organized by the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce. GPCC Director of Administration MaryJo Harris said in an email interview that this year, Santa’s sleigh will stop in front of Sanders in the Village and Santa will read a book to children, in keeping with this year’s parade theme and efforts to promote literacy. The Grosse Pointe Public Library’s three branches will have events for children that afternoon, she said.

“The theme this year is a ‘Storybook Christmas’ to commemorate what truly is a remarkable story of a hometown parade beginning in 1976 and becoming one of Grosse Pointe’s biggest annual traditions for 40 years,” Harris said. “We are so thankful to the Grosse Pointe Village Association for laying the roots for the parade, and to Beverly Leinweber and Terri Berschback for their many years of successfully directing and growing the parade until the Grosse Pointe Chamber took over in 2013.”

About 10,000 people are expected to line the parade route, she said.

“Generations of families have come to the parade and made it a part of their Thanksgiving weekend tradition,” Harris said. “Many have watched from the same corner on Kercheval Avenue with extended friends and family.”

For this special anniversary, the GPCC invited WDIV-TV news anchor Devin Scillian to serve as the grand marshal. Scillian, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park, is a musician and author of several children’s books. He’s someone who knows a thing or two about holiday parades, having co-hosted America’s Thanksgiving Parade with Carmen Harlan for Channel 4 for the last 20 years.

“I love that day and all the preparation that goes into it, but honestly, riding in a parade is a lot more relaxing than hosting one,” Scillian said in an email interview.

Scillian, who said he’s been the Grosse Pointe parade’s grand marshal before, said he was nonetheless “so honored” to be invited back this year for the 40th anniversary.

He said he and his family have “enjoyed the Grosse Pointe parade over the years. I can’t say we get to every one of them because some years I’m a little wiped out from the day before. But being the grand marshal on such a big anniversary? I can’t wait.”

Also making a special appearance this year is Mary Reinman. The 16-year-old Grosse Pointe Farms resident, a Grosse Pointe South High School junior, earned the parade spot after winning the GPCC’s Grosse Pointe’s Got Talent contest at VillageFest by singing “Lonely Kid,” one of her own songs. Reinman said she hopes to perform a mix of originals and holiday songs along the parade route.

“I’m really excited to be doing it,” she said in an email interview. “It’s going to be fun seeing familiar faces as I pass by singing.”

Harris said the local student groups are one of the highlights of the parade.

“Parents and grandparents love to see their children marching in the parade, and the kids just love marching while representing their Scout or athletic group,” she said.

Besides local Scout troops and sports teams, Harris said that this year, they’re welcoming back the Redford Unicycle Club, Golden Retriever Rescue of Michigan, Detroit circus jugglers, the Flint Scottish Pipe Band and The Parade Company’s Big Head Corps wearing the famous papier-mâché heads. 

High school marching bands slated to perform include those from Grosse Pointe North and South, Warren De La Salle, Chandler Park Academy, Warren Fitzgerald and Warren Cousino, Harris said. Although the parade is still expected to only last about an hour, she said they’ve added more bands, performers and large floats this year.

“The floats appearing in our parade will not be in the Detroit parade on Thanksgiving Day, so it will be nice for the kids to see many floats for the first time,” Harris said.

People also may expect to see floats from the nonprofit Friends of the Grosse Pointe Parade: the Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Sleigh, the Grosse Pointe White Christmas Carriage, the Grosse Pointe Wellness Train and the Toys for Tots Caboose.

In recent years, the parade has looped through the Farms’ Kercheval business district, the Hill. Farms Mayor James Farquhar, a third-generation Farms resident, since becoming the Farms mayor in 2003, has joined his fellow mayors in the Pointes and Harper Woods as a participant.

“I just love seeing the families out there and the older people sitting out there (watching the parade),” he said. “Just the whole family-oriented (aspect) — it’s what makes Grosse Pointe special.”

Dale Scrace — a longtime City leader who has been the mayor of Grosse Pointe City for about the last 14 years and who has lived in the City since 1973 — called the parade one of his “favorite days of the year.”

Scrace said that after his oldest son was born, “We went to the (parade) most years. (I) remember walking in the parade a couple of times with the boys and pinch-hitting for (former City) Mayor Susan Wheeler a couple of times.”

John Denomme, of Grosse Pointe Woods, who owned the former Village Records and Tapes store, was involved with the parade in various capacities for many years.

“I first became aware of the Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade in 1981, our first year at Village Records and Tapes,” he said in an email interview. “Even though it was in its relative infancy at that time, I was surprised at how well-developed the parade units and sponsor base were by then. By the mid-’80s, both of our daughters marched in the parade with their respective Girl Scout troops, and it was always a thrill for them to participate. We had a huge front display window at Village Records, and we would invite people in, especially on cold parade days, to watch the parade from inside the store, and oftentimes the same people would return each year to view the festivities.”

Denomme became the promotion manager for the Grosse Pointe Village Association in 1998 and was responsible for advertising and publicizing the parade, which he did until his retirement in 2013.

“I think the various parade coordinators through the years are the reason it’s still in existence,” Denomme said. “Without them, there would be no one to hire the bands, book the sponsors, work with public safety, recruit volunteers, etc. And the attendance is still robust after all these years, so the community as a whole obviously loves it.”

Lifelong Grosse Pointer Terri Berschback, of Grosse Pointe Park, was the parade director for about 10 years, from roughly 2002 to 2012. 

“The first year I did the parade should have been my last, as it poured buckets the entire time,” she recalled in an email interview. “I can do cold, snow, wind, etc., but the rain was the worst. One of the happiest memories was having the (Budweiser) Clydesdales in the parade. I can’t take the credit for it, as it fell into my lap, but (I) was so happy that it happened. I was always happy when the parade was over and (I) knew that the participants and the community enjoyed it.”

One of Denomme’s favorite parade entries is one that longtime parade-goers should remember.

“I think my favorite parade unit was the caterpillar that Grosse Pointe Theatre provided for many years,” he said. “It was about 30 feet long and was manned by people inside whose legs were visible under the fabric of the caterpillar — this lent an air of inauthenticity that was, at times, hysterical to watch. It reminded me of the Three Stooges inside the horse costume! It has long since been retired, probably since the early 2000s.”

Berschback said she hopes the parade lasts “another 40 years” so that new generations of families can continue to enjoy it.

Harris concurred, saying that support from the sponsors and more than 50 local residents who volunteer as street marshals, banner carriers and parade marshals has played a critical role in maintaining this event.

The parade is preceded by the Grosse Pointe Lions Club’s 18th annual Happy Holidays Jingle Bell 5K Walk/Run, which will start at 9 a.m. on the parade route. For more information or to register for the run/walk, visit the Grosse Pointe Lions Club Facebook page or www.gplcjinglebellrun.wordpress.com.

Because parade participants line up along Grosse Pointe Boulevard from Fisher to Lewiston and the parade makes its way through the Hill and Village, Harris said Kercheval and Grosse Pointe Boulevard in those areas will be closed to vehicular traffic at 8 a.m. Nov. 27 and won’t reopen until after the parade. There’s also no parking in the Village or on the Hill from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 27, she said. 

For more information or to volunteer for the parade, contact the GPCC at (313) 881-4722 or visit www.grossepointechamber.com.

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