The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 7, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Annual neighborhood parade now on second generation

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Only 361 days until the next Fourth of July, but no planning is necessary. My family and the families in my childhood neighborhood know exactly where we’ll be.

At 9:25 a.m., about 100 kids ages 0 to 98 will be gathering on bikes, in miniature motorized jeeps, on scooters and on foot at a picturesque island in the road at the junction of Elmwood, Crestwood and Oakcrest.

We’ve been doing so for 35 years.

The annual Fourth of July parade started as the brainchild of my mom, Janeil, when I was 9 and my brother, Neil, was 6. The daughter of Duquesne-Joplin history teacher Georgia Atterbury, Mom also was a teacher and inherited Grandma’s deep patriotism. She sensed that a 10 p.m. fireworks show meant an awfully long time to wait for youngsters in the neighborhood who were excited about the holiday.

So Mom created an original hand-lettered flier inviting revelers of all ages to participate and delivered it door to door, and she gathered her cherished collection of flags, including a 48-star flag and a bicentennial flag, for us to carry.

My brother and I were among a handful of kids who waved flags, rattled noisemakers and walked the two-block parade route that first year. We were led by World War I veteran and neighbor Hank Geier, who took great pride in donning his veteran’s cap and a special grand marshal badge crafted by Mom.

Neighbors along the route set out their lawn chairs and clapped as we proudly marched by. Everyone then gathered in our backyard, where Mom set out a wooden folding table with lemonade and plates of “fancy” store-bought cookies. We capped off the celebration by saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “Happy Birthday” to America.

That pattern still is repeated today. As we’ve grown, we’ve changed only what we wear or our method of transport.

At age 10, I walked as the Statue of Liberty and repeated the costume for the 25th parade.

In junior high, with a twist of irony I rode a neighbor’s tandem bike with my best friend, who had emigrated from England.

I’ve walked the parade twice pregnant, twice pushing a stroller and twice pulling a wagon with my sons.

My brother has kept the beat for the parade with his snare drum for more than two decades, and 13 years ago his high school best friend, Derek Sharp, and Derek’s 9-year-old son, Alex, joined in with their drums. Derek’s wife, Stephanie, and their children now live in Topeka, but they return year after year in matching tie-dyed T-shirts especially for the occasion. Alex, now 21, will be married in August, and brought his bride-to-be to walk in the parade.

Among the oldest revelers year after year: My husband’s grandmother, Emma Stefanoni, now 97, and the Spirit of Pittsburg, Jack Overman, now 95.

The only significant annual change is the grand marshal, as Hank passed on. Each year, Mom puts a great deal of thought into choosing a new one. The year after my oldest son was born, it was my husband’s grandfather, a World War II veteran. The year after 9/11, it was a neighborhood firefighter. This year, it was a neighbor who has helped build 10 homes for Habitat for Humanity.

As for that handful of neighborhood kids who first marched 35 years ago, we still show up at 9:25 a.m. Some travel several hours to get here. We still wear Uncle Sam hats and carry noisemakers and wear red, white and blue, but now we are taller and are holding the hands of a new generation of paraders.

I imagine that when my sons are grown and perhaps holding young hands of their own, each Fourth of July, Mom will still be bounding down her front steps at 9:25 a.m., ringing her school bell loudly and shouting, “Let’s have a parade” to signal it’s time to assemble.

We’ll see you at the island.


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