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Posted on Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

Downtown 4th of July parade celebrates both America and Ann Arbor

By Ben Freed


Brothers Elliott, 8, and Milo Varnum, 5, of Ann Arbor, show off their holiday style as they are sprayed with a mist of water during of the 23rd Annual Ann Arbor Jaycees Fourth of July Parade on Thursday, July 4, 2013 on South State Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Melanie Maxwell |

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It’s a parade both like and unlike any other — exactly the way Ann Arbor residents want it to be.

The people were dressed in Red, White and Blue clothing (guilty), flags were waved by young and old alike and patriotic bunting was liberally draped across the floats at the 23rd annual Ann Arbor Jaycees Fourth of July Parade . But as much as the celebration was about America, it also was a uniquely Ann Arbor event.

Andrea and John Smith come to the parade to see their city celebrate.

“I really like that it’s an event for the people in the city, and not something big and promotional designed to draw people in from all over the country,” longtime Ann Arbor resident Marge Rutila said.

“The event is really for Ann Arborites and it shows throughout the parade.”

Rutila has been in Ann Arbor since 1970, but it isn’t just the old “townies” who appreciate the local flare of the parade.

“It’s obviously a parade celebrating our independence, but it also gives people to see their neighbors and the organizations they’re involved in,” Antonio Placanica, who just moved to Ann Arbor last year, said as a stage combat troupe passed by twirling fire and fighting with swords.

“There is such an amazing variety of organizations here that it’s just great to come out and see them all and learn about everything that happens right here in Ann Arbor.”

For children like 4-year-old Arthur Sherwood, the success of the parade is predicated less on the amount of patriotic fervor it inspires and more on the amount of candy they are able to collect.

Many kids at the parade talked about the candy, but Alex L., Bregon Moroney, and Carl Gombert were more concerned with the fashion.

“I’m here to get candy,” he stated matter-of-factly when asked why he liked the parade.

Big floats and flashy displays are replaced by the “Halloween in July” atmosphere in which nearly every participant has at least a few Tootsie Rolls to pass out.

Ann Arbor residents certainly make sure to turn out for the holiday celebration as well. Big crowds lined the streets for the parade, with the largest concentrations at the corner of South State and Liberty streets, as well as along Main Street at the end of the parade route. At some points the rows were seven or eight people deep along the sidewalks.

Parade chair Mary Jo Knitter said the Jaycees who put on the parade have been working since January to make sure it all runs smoothly.

“It’s really worth it because it’s obvious that the people really appreciate the work that goes into it,” she said.

“The excitement that both the participants and the spectators bring is great. Everyone is just so happy to be here.”

For Yoshimi “Misa” Torres of the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, America represents a land of opportunity.

Knitter said the parade had approximately 80 participants this year, which was about the same as last year’s event. Favorites that returned from last year included the Fife and Drump Corps that marches at the end of the parade and the Redford Jaycees Lawnmower Marching Corps whose formations and drills with the push-lawnmowers would have made the Shiners proud.

In true Ann Arbor fashion, right in front of the Fife and Drum Corps that closes the parade walked a man with an over-sized paper mache Bo Schembechler head.

“He’s kind of our Santa Clause at the end of the parade,” Knitter said. “He wraps it all up for us.”

Ann Arbor. Bo Schembechler. America. Happy 4th of July.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

Frederick Douglass's "The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro." delivered on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York, at a Declaration of Independence commemoration, still bears remembering. "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. Douglass delivered his speech four years after the United States finished its war against Mexico to steal land and spread slavery, five years before the vicious Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, and nine years before the country would explode into civil war. His words call out through the generations to abandon the empty "shout of liberty and equality" on July 4, and to put away the fireworks and flags. In the spirit of Frederick Douglass, the "Howard Zinn Education Project" urges teachers to use July 4 as a time to rethink how we equip students to reflect on the complicated birth of the United States of America. Check out this important source of the peoples history, better than tootsie rolls. Sadly those in the parade who raised questions of destructive corporation power and the threats to our fragile democracy got no mention in the article. The revolution remains incomplete, indeed the counter revolution of monopolists rides hi


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 2:22 p.m. That last word is rides "high." A true celebration of our revolution would be a mobilizing to challenge corporate power. George Washington in his farewell address warned us, beware of the monopolists, they are the greatest threat to the republic, or words to that effect. This holiday, at least, is time to take heed.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

Thank you, Ann Arbor Jaycees, for putting on this parade year after year. You do a great service to this city!


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

Very well organized event - roads were blocked with minimal disruptions. Nice job AA


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 10 p.m.

Nice event!


Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

Great event and great day. But it's pretty bad this article said nothing about the Grand Marshal of the parade, Michigan swimming coach Mike Bottom. I assume he was there, or did he not show up?

Paula Gardner

Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 10:48 a.m.

Here's our story on Mike when he was named grand marshall. He had quite a year at UM and was a great choice for the honor.


Fri, Jul 5, 2013 : 1:54 a.m.

Yes, he was there and yes he probably should have been mentioned... but as there were over 80 groups in the parade, I'm sure the writers can't include everyone

Tim Hornton

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

The end sentence is out of order and missing something! Should be, Bo Schembechler, America, UM, then Ann Arbor. Happy 4th of July.

David Cahill

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

The ACLU group had Lady Liberty again this year. We were applauded by the crowd all along the route.

Cameron Bothner

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

No mention or pictures of that awesome free jazz marching band that WCBN put together?

Ben Freed

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

I did see that free jazz marching band, they were pretty awesome.