Longfellow 4th parade is pride of community


July 07, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SUNDAY'S SWELTERING heat didn't stop the coolest parade in town.

The 29th Longfellow Friends of the Traditional 4th parade is one of the most quirky, laid-back and enthusiastic marches you'd ever want to see.

Neighbors in costume or riding elaborate floats, kids riding in a pickup truck shooting water guns into the crowd, dogs decked out in Fourth of July finery and tons of bicyclists -- most on decorated bikes -- just let loose and celebrated. Some marchers dyed their hair or painted their faces red, white and blue.

The parade began about 9: 30 a.m., when entrants started lining up in the parking lot at Longfellow Elementary School.

Bob Russell, chairman of the Longfellow Friends planning committee, introduced the parade's grand marshal, Alan Olchowski, to the crowd. Olchowski is leaving Longfellow Elementary after seven years as principal. He will become principal at Forest Ridge Elementary in the fall.

"This parade is a testimony to what a tremendous community Longfellow is," Olchowski said.

Gerri House and Kathleen Gandy participated in the first Longfellow parade in 1970. They were introduced as this year's recipients of the Longfellow Friends planning committee's Good Neighbor Award.

"The Good Neighbors are truly that," said committee member Dottie Binckley, "people who've done a lot in the community, usually as volunteers for the school or the community in some way."

House and Gandy have volunteered for the PTA, swim team, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Kangaroo Kids.

House is a member of the Howard County General Hospital Auxiliary, and Gandy volunteers for the Red Cross. They rode in a convertible along the parade route.

Members of this year's planning committee are Rich Merrill, Joe Mazalewski, Ken and Ann Augustine, Paul Rizzo, Kevin Schrieber, Bob and Barbara Russell, Lou Berman, Lyle Linden, Dottie and Jim Binckley and Cathy Rosenheim.

Longfellow resident Bob Shinskie said the idea to have a parade was born over a few beers.

"Years ago, before there was a pub or a pizza place in Columbia, a bunch of us [Longfellow residents] used to go down to Laurel to a pizza place," he said. "It was getting close to the Fourth of July, and I challenged Ed Hamel to a softball game."

Shinskie lives on Hesperus Drive; Hamel lived on Eliots Oak Road.

"That went on for a few years, and it grew from there," Shinskie said.

The Longfellow celebration still includes a softball game, held after the parade for residents living on or near Hesperus Drive or Eliots Oak Road.

After a long dry spell, the Hesperus Wrecks beat the Eliots Oak Nuts this year, 8-4.

It's the Wrecks' first win in seven years.

After the national anthem, sung by the Pro Cantare Chorus of Columbia, Howard County Officer Keith Berry led the parade along Hesperus Drive in a police car -- as he has for the past 10 years. Berry is a resident of Longfellow.

A participant in the parade since he was a child, Berry enjoys the unique atmosphere of Longfellow's Fourth of July celebration.

"They're a bunch of nuts," he said, laughing. "It's a lot of fun."

Jim Binckley, one of the parade's originators, praised the committee's egalitarian approach. "There are no prerequisites and no restrictions to participating," he said. There are no forms to fill out, just show up and you're in the parade.

"We try not to take ourselves too seriously," Bob Russell said. The planning committee awards first-place ribbons to everyone who participates in the parade.

Cub Scout Pack 61 marched as the color guard. Girl Scout Troop 1689 rode in an air-conditioned stretch limousine. Chloe Gandy, 12, sported red, white and blue bands on her braces and troop leader Cindy Ault was dressed in an orange nightgown.

The Harper's Choice swim team had the most elaborate float, complete with inflatable dolphins, beach umbrella, lifeguards, balloons, crepe paper, flags and lots of kids in swimsuits.

Columbia Association President Deborah McCarty celebrated her first Fourth of July in Columbia by riding in the back of a pickup truck with Columbia Council Chairman Joe Merke.

McCarty was impressed by Longfellow's community spirit.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "This is exactly what you want in a community, and I can think of no better way to spend the Fourth."

Music along the parade route was provided by a fife and drum duo in Colonial costumes and the Starvation Army Band -- a seven-member offshoot of the Columbia Concert Band playing Dixieland and jazz.

Longfellow resident Barbara Burke and her cousins, Patty, Matthew and Megan Brown, drove the parade route in Burke's car, which was festooned with crepe paper and flags.

The Browns come down from Delaware every year to be in the parade. "We wouldn't miss it," Patty Brown said.

Other parade entrants included Del. Robert L. Flanagan and former County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Hundreds of people lined the parade route. Some sat on lawn chairs, others on cars in driveways or on the curb. Many were waving flags, wearing smiles and offering lemonade and ice water to the marchers.

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