A patriotic tradition

Dundalk: A community braves the heat to hold its annual July Fourth parade.

July 05, 2002|By Brendan Kearney | Brendan Kearney,SUN STAFF

Lester Kottraba, a lifelong resident of Edgemere, sat in a lawn chair at the intersection of Dunman Way and Dunglow Road in Dundalk yesterday morning with his wife, son and grandchildren, peering through his sunglasses as the parade of firetrucks, marching bands and political candidates passed before him.

Kottraba, 67, has occupied the same place every Fourth of July "since the tree was here," joked his wife, Mildred, 68, pointing to a patch of grass where a tree stood when Kottraba began his annual watch almost 50 years ago.

"You get your favorite corner, and that's where you stay," said Kottraba, a former Bethlehem Steel worker who now serves as a volunteer firefighter.

Communities all over the country came together yesterday to celebrate the 226th anniversary of American independence, many with renewed vigor after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Thousands came out to this eastern Baltimore County community to witness the 68th annual Dundalk Heritage Parade. More people attended yesterday's proceedings than in years past, said a county police spokesman, who declined to give an estimate of the crowd size.

"It's like one big, happy family," said Lawrence Santo, 75, who retired in 1986 after 42 years at Bethlehem Steel. "Everybody knows the Fourth of July parade."

The parade, which began about 8:15 a.m. at the Logan Village Shopping Center and ended roughly three hours later on Liberty Parkway, seems to draw the same crowd each year to the curbs of the historic neighborhood, long home to the families of Bethlehem Steel employees.

"I've been coming here since I was a baby," said Carol Roese, 43, who sat with her 10-year-old daughter beneath a tree across from the Dundalk Village Center.

Finding that coveted place out of the sun was the order of the day. The seasoned spectators in the crowd staked out positions where they could survey the action while avoiding the intense solar rays.

Although 10 people fell victim to the heat and required medical attention, according to county police, most were able to enjoy the day despite the stifling heat.

A lifelong resident of Dundalk, Joseph Arvin, 83, has found what he believes is the ideal vantage point for viewing the parade's "Mummer" string bands from Philadelphia, a favorite of his.

With an eclectic offering of floats, music, elected officials and clowns, all parade-watchers seemed to have a favorite, from Dina Ulrich, 41, to Chad Coleman, 9.

"I like the bands, the majorettes and the dancers," said Ulrich, a 15-year spectator and Edgemere resident who came to the parade with her husband, two children and a nephew. "But we try to avoid the firetrucks - they're too loud."

For the past three years, Chad, who removed his shirt yesterday and donned a green top hat to keep cool, has traveled with his sister Krissy, 10, to their friend Jaimee Wehner's house on Liberty Parkway to watch the parade. "I like the dog on the skateboard," he said, referring to the canine who frequently appears in parades throughout the Baltimore area.

In addition to the usual blaring sirens and flashing lights of local volunteer fire departments and the melodies of high school marching bands, this year's event featured local politicians seeking the attention of constituents in this election year. U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Maryland gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, appeared. So did two candidates in the 2nd Congressional District - Democratic County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and former Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

Beyond the celebrity appeal of the event, the theme of yesterday's parade was rooted in the traditional significance of July Fourth.

"I thought that the pride of this community was shining today," said County Council chairman John Olszewski Sr. "Everybody showed their patriotism by wearing their red, white and blue."

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