In 1947, a parade of 50 participants marched through La Grange, bringing life to an event that has since doubled in size and become a staple of the community.
The La Grange Pet Parade is celebrating its 75th event at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and will have nearly 100 participants. The milestone year has led to much reflection on the history of the parade, parade coordinator Molly Price said.
“This event put La Grange on the map,” Price said. “It’s an event we all celebrate like it’s a holiday, and I think it’s really amazing how it brings our community together in such a special way.”
Former La Grange Chamber of Commerce President Ed Breen started the parade with the help of local business owners as a way to bring people to the downtown area, Price said. Now, the parade is planned by a set of three committees, and Breen’s family continues to help put the parade together.
Lindsey Paulus, president of the fundraising committee and charity board, said she is constantly amazed by people scoping out their seats as early as 7 a.m. on parade day. The parade was once just 30 minutes long, Paulus said, and this year is expected to last about two hours, she said.
“The community has a real sense of pride about the parade — as though they have something special, and they do,” Paulus said. “My mom was in the parade when she was 7 and to this day she says she’ll always remember winning roller skates.”
Price said the nostalgia is a big part of what keeps the parade alive as children in the community go from watching it to supporting it. The parade even gained statewide recognition when WGN began covering it, something Price said happened for about 20 years.
Marshalls for the parade have included 1950s film star Jack Palance; actress Debbie Reynolds; “Dennis the Menace” actor Jay North; “Beverly Hillbillies” star Max Baer Jr.; who played the series’ Jethro Clampett, Blackhawks player Bobby Hull and Chicago Bears player Johnny Knox. Elephants and donkeys from the Brookfield Zoo even marshalled the event in its second year in 1948.
“There are things that define a community, and for La Grange, this is it,” said Nancy Cummings of the La Grange Business Association. “This is what people look for in a community when they think about where they want to put roots down.”
Cummings said the event has become an ingrained part of the business community in La Grange as much as it has become a part of residents’ lives, with businesses having practical and emotional attachment. She said the event is a driver of foot traffic and brings residents and visitors to many local shops, making it part of the businesses on many levels.
The La Grange Business Association is sponsoring a wellness float for this year’s event, highlighting wellness amenities in the community, Cummings said.
Fundraising efforts for this year’s event will include t-shirts and a 75th anniversary commemorative book, both of which can be purchased online at LaGrangePetParade.org or in person the day of the event.