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Story Last modified at 2:52 p.m. on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A fine Fourth
Traditional parade draws a crowd

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:News

Members of Cub Scout Pack 228 march during the 41st Annual Chugiak Fourth of July Parade on July 4 in Chugiak. The pack won the prize for best boys group.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Barbecue smoke and bagpipe music shared the air outside Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on Monday afternoon, as folks inside and outside the old Chugiak church prepared for the tide of marchers about to pour down the Old Glenn Highway.

Standing beneath a tent set up to guard against an undecided sky, volunteers opened condiments and set out napkins; by the end of the day, they'd hand out a couple hundred free dogs to hungry marchers in the 41st Annual Chugiak Fourth of July Parade. The sound track to their work was provided by the Alaska Celtic Pipes and Drums band, who used the church to rehearse in the final minutes before the parade.

Church member John Kehr, of Birchwood, stood off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his stuffed bear, Ural, who sat atop Kehr's Russian-made motorcycle decked out red, white and blue. Kehr said he's been coming to the annual parade for a couple decades now, and returns every year because of the small-town, community feel of the event.

"It's a fun, relaxing time," Kehr said. "It's good to see the spirit of the people who are participating in it."

Minutes later, a loud siren from just up the road announced that the parade, which began at Latimer Hall on the Old Glenn, had begun. Soon, the first fire trucks could be seen slowly rolling down the former main drag, flashing their lights and blasting their horns full bore. Behind them came a line of Boy Scouts, beauty queens, dancers, singers and more, nearly all of them smiling, waving and throwing candy to the crowds lining the route.

Longtime Chugiak residents Fred Reising and Gwen Utter watched the festivities from the porch of the former Chugiak post office. Between them, the two said they've likely seen just about every one of the 41 Chugiak parades – dating back to the time when Reising said Art Wallace would buy post-parade food and drink for everyone.

photo:News

Brothers Joshua, left, and Benjamin Johnston enjoy some watermelon in front of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church before the start of the 41st Annual Chugiak Fourth of July Parade.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

"He used to pay for the whole thing," Reising said.

Reising and Utter smiled and waved as the newest crop of marchers made their way by. Although they seemed to enjoy the proceedings (Reising made several trips to the side of the road to grab candy), both agreed that the early days of the event – back when the party lasted long after the parade – were more fun.

"It used to be really wild," Reising said.

Utter said she misses the days when the parade was an event that would stretch into the wee hours.

"People have gotten entirely too civilized," she said.

Kingston, Jamaica's Peta-Gaye Walker didn't seem to mind that this year's event didn't include a raucous post parade party. The Golden Wheel Amusements employee spent the day taking pictures of just about every float that went past.

She said similar parades aren't the norm back home.

"Not really, no," she said.

Walker said her first impression of Chugiak's parade was a good one.

"It's awesome," she said.

The hundreds of people who lined the route between Latimer Hall and the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center lucked out weather-wise, as the gray skies waited until just after the parade ended to open up. Even then the showers were brief, allowing those who stuck around for booths and games at the center to stay dry.

Dozens of community groups and individuals participated in the parade, and many took home awards for their efforts. Judges Debbie Ossiander, Burl Rogers and Martha Rogers watched the parade from their viewing stand set up outside the Rural Discount Center. Afterward, the trio handed out 10 awards based on their impressions of the marchers.

Among this year's winners were Cub Scouts Pack 228 (Best Boys group), Bella Vista (Best Commercial), Alaska Fine Arts (Best Children's Group), Mow Diddley (Best Vehicle), Rural Discount Center and Dani the Horse (Best Animal), Chugiak Lions Club (Best Decorated), Kodiak Baptist Mission (Best Nonprofit), VFW Post 9785 (Most Patriotic), Alaska Celtic Pipes and Drums (Judges Choice) and Love, Inc. of Eagle River (Fire Department Choice).

Ellamy Tiller, who marched with the Kodiak Baptist Mission, said the group was in Anchorage for some time off "The Rock" and decided to make the trip to Chugiak to be in the parade. Taking a break from playing the guitar, Tiller said the missionaries thought the parade would be the perfect place to spend the Fourth.

"We're just out here singing songs and throwing candy," she said. "We just thought it would be fun."

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 6, 2011.