Catonsville's 50th Fourth of July parade honors its founder, 95

July 03, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In 1947, Marie O'Dea wanted a way to keep Catonsville residents safe and at home for the Fourth of July.

"Always on the Fourth of July, Catonsville was drained because people took their kids to the mountains or to the seashore or anywhere there was action," said O'Dea. "The worst part was that every year, some didn't come back because they drowned or were killed in accidents."

So O'Dea -- then editor of the Herald-Argus, a forerunner of the Catonsville Times -- organized the community's first Fourth of July Parade. Tomorrow, the 95-year-old founder will be honored for establishing an event that is one of Maryland's best-known Independence Day celebrations.

"When we first started we had two bands and hundreds of people," said O'Dea, who also was inspired by a Memorial Day parade held in Catonsville that year. "People really took to it, and this year we'll have 16 bands and tens of thousands of people."

O'Dea will be one of the honorary grand marshals at tomorrow's celebration. Her health prevents her from riding in the parade, but O'Dea said she plans to watch from the Knights of Columbus Hall porch on Frederick Road.

"I'm just delighted," said O'Dea, who lives at St. Martin's Home for the Aged, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. "As I've gotten older, the Knights of Columbus have been nice enough to invite me to sit on their porch."

Gregory Morgan, general chairman of the Catonsville Celebration Committee, said about 50,000 people are expected at festivities that begin at 9: 30 a.m. with children's games and races at Catonsville High School and conclude with fireworks about 9: 15 p.m.

O'Dea is a testament to the sense of tradition that makes the celebration special, Morgan said. "She's wonderful," he said. "We are lucky to have her."

The parade is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at Montrose Avenue and Frederick Road. Funds for the celebration -- which included $16,000 for the parade and $15,000 for fireworks -- were raised through donations, sponsorships and advertisements, Morgan said.

O'Dea, who has not missed a parade since its inception, said she had no idea that her idea would lead to an annual event.

"Every year something exciting happens," O'Dea said. "It just keeps getting bigger and better."

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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