Each organization has its fascinating tales of development, and San Marino’s 4th of July Parade is no different.
“In 1965, Joan Kemper gathered several of us at City Hall to urge an old-fashioned parade,” said Ken Veronda, headmaster of Southwestern Academy and one of San Marino’s unofficial historians. “Herb McCormick at The Tribune was very enthusiastic, as was Birdie Hartsong, then the chamber of commerce manager. American Legion Post 238 members were ready to go, all wonderful WWII veterans. The largest service club in town, Kiwanis, said they would help but couldn’t sponsor; same with Lions and Exchange. Larry Shepard and Elder Morgan of the Rotary Club said they’d loan trucks, but couldn’t organize. I was representing the Chamber of Commerce and was on the ladder to be president, so a lot of it fell to me.”
Veronda said the different parties joined forces and were able to put on a very good show.
“The parade was duly organized that July 4th, with an emphasis on kids,” Veronda recalls. “There were decorated tricycles and bicycles out in front, flat-bed Shepard and Morgan trucks in back with Little Leaguers and other athletes. That is a tradition that has continued.”
Peggy Class, who would later spend so much time on the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors that an award is presented annually in her name, eventually took over the parade under her expansive wing.
As the years and Independence Days passed, others stepped up to take part in the leadership of parade organization.
“Dick Hultine of Huntington Pharmacy, and local dentists Dr. Larry Goodreau and the ever-faithful Dr. Jack Hamilton would always help,” Veronda continued. “I sort of did the parade organizing with Debbie [Priester] managing the paperwork.”
Veronda also remembers San Marino picking up remnants from South Pasadena’s 4th of July Parade, which takes place earlier in the day.
“Plumber/Mayor David Margrave’s Morrow & Holman creations — pirate ships, space craft and cable cars — would inevitably join us,” Veronda said.
Active since the parade’s inception, Class retired in the late 1990s.
“When Peggy left, no one at the Chamber of Commerce would take over sponsorships,” said Veronda. “Then-city manager Debbie Bell asked Debbie and me to do it on behalf of the city, which we did until 2007. At that point, Len Therrien decided to make the parade a Rotary function with a Rotary committee, and I turned over all my materials to him, with Debbie helping. Though Rotary almost always had a ‘float’ trailer, the parade wasn’t Rotary’s until 2008.”
Priester has held the hot potato for the past 13 years, and the parade is all the better for it.
The annual event has seen equestrians (San Marino’s Jann of Sweden and Doug Larner, of local note), the famous Yellow Submarine and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, as well. This year’s parade will feature a dragster. Entries in previous parades have run the gamut from a 1928 Hot Rod to Model A’s to Willy’s and Woodies.
The vast majority of parades have served to unite an already tight-knit community, though a tradition of Little Leaguers pelting observers with water balloons and high-powered squirt guns has oft been a point of contention.
“Please, let’s not discuss this,” Veronda said wryly.
Other anecdotes provided by Veronda include drivers and helpers who’d been celebrating well before trying to maneuver vehicles, politicians showing up at the last minute and demanding convertibles, which are always in short supply and this classic that featured former Mayor Lynn Reitnouer, who, sadly, passed away this spring: “I was carrying Lynn in my brand-new two-seater convertible,” Veronda recalled. “Lynn, a very tall man, was perched on the trunk between head rests, his shoeless feet on the console by the driver. A few blocks along, Lynn started rising into the air as my car made a grinding noise. His toe was caught in the switch that controls the convertible top, and the poor motor struggled to put up the hardtop while lifting Lynn.”
One of the many reasons Veronda consistently refers to the holiday and all its associated activities simply as “the Glorious Fourth.”
“It proves us a healthy, All-American, small Midwestern town,” Veronda said. “Some of our homes and cars are bigger than most in Midwestern towns, but still small, we are a Midwestern town under our fancy appearance.”
Priester agrees with that sentiment.
“The parade is a great time to reflect on what it means to live in America, and why we are so lucky to be here,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed working with all the different folks I’ve met that have wished to be a part of the parade. Each year it’s different and I have no idea what is actually going to happen until that very day. I start in January looking for cars, bands, and folks who would like to participate and then see what shows up.”
Good advice for us all…