They are used to marching together, but they had hoped others would join them, and despite the poor turnout at Saturday’s first Lake Wales parade in honor of Veterans Day, there is hope the tradition will continue.
This year’s parade, the first in years, was organized by American Legion Memorial Post 71, with Commander Andy Anderson at the helm.
He admits he was discouraged at the turnout, but adds his chest “swelled with pride,” for those who participated in the parade.
But putting on a parade is no small thing.
“It was a learning experience,” he said. “I’ve never put on a parade before.”
Though the parade included about 12 to 13 cars, including vehicles from the National Guard Armory, a city fire engine, and a float from the Wounded Warriors organization, participants waved to mostly empty streets.
That said, Anderson notes people came out of their downtown shops and put their hands over their hearts.
A POW-MIA ceremony was held before the parade, attended by about 25 people.
Mary Walkup and her husband, Tom, former owners of the One of a Kind shop, notes that they want to say “thank you” to the event organizers.
“We really appreciate those people honoring those who served their country. As veterans, we don’t get enough of that.”
Walkup and her husband are both Navy veterans.
She believes that Lake Wales is “one of the worst cities for patriotism,” she says, basing that on the number of patriotic merchandise she used to display in her shop that remained unsold.
And she adds most veterans in Lake Wales are retired from World War II and “have been there, done that.”
“There are very few young veterans,” she said.
There would be veterans who would appreciate the parade being an annual tradition, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Gerald Menard.
Menard, like others, has suffered, and said he is diabetic, has a heart condition, has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and also helps others who come to the Post.
“Anybody comes in here, I give them names and numbers of people who can help,” he adds.
Jennifer Nanek, the city’s director for coordinating special events, notes there are some things which may help in future planning of Veterans Day parades.
She said the $50 contribution per float is a “little high,” and adds that part of the lack of turnout in the parade has to do with the inconsistency of the city having a parade.
“They have to do it every year,” she said.
Anderson said the $50 was a suggested donation, but adds the Legion didn’t see but one of those, most were less.
The donations were to go to veterans, he said, to help them.
Nanek notes whoever organizes the yearly event needs to reach out to several different groups in the community to participate, and use social media and online presence to promote it.
And music would be helpful. “They couldn’t get the band at the last minute,” she notes.
Anderson said the Legion did have the Highlanders Band for the parade, but a last minute decision was made for the band to go to another event that day.
A phone call and email to the band director, Kenneth Evans, by The Lake Wales News, was not returned by press time Tuesday.
Planning a parade takes a long time, she notes, adding that the Mardi Gras and Christmas parades take at least four to five months to plan.
And most of the floats cost $10 to $15 to enter.
For about eight years, Cliff Tonjes, owner of Cliff’s True Value Hardware, organized the event.
He says the first parade he did was immediately after 9/11 when the patriotism was at an all-time high.
In that parade, veterans from WWII proudly wore their uniforms. One man was so proud to ride in the parade that he called his sister, who lived out of town, to come watch the parade.
“The interest (in having a parade) is amongst the Vets especially,” Tonjes says.
“It’s doable to make it a bigger parade,” he said.
But he adds it is hard to get volunteers to coordinate, participate and attend.
“I always had a hard time getting turnout,” he said.
He suggests having a marching band, and kids who love to march in a parade, and that would draw their parents.
“Lots of organizations need to be personally asked,” he said.
Anderson notes he tried six times to call the JROTC at Lake Wales High School, adding that somehow, the message did not get through to them.
Capt. Dave Simpson of the JROTC said they knew nothing of the parade.
“Our kids love doing it,” he said, adding that Lakeland had called them, but Simpson declined.
As for Lake Wales, he notes, if they had known, “We would have had 100 cadets marching. They get a ribbon for the parade.”
Still, Anderson is pleased. “It may not have been the best or the biggest, but I am pleased,” he said. Plans are in the works to partner with the Lake Wales Chamber for the next parade, he says.
“Looking at hind sight, you’ve got to do it the first time, in order to figure out what you need to do to make it better.”
“It’s something that is worthwhile,” he said.
“We are going to make mistakes as we learn how to do this. The fact that we are doing this is a kudos to us.”