The roads will rise up to meet thousands of spectators, walkers, riders and floaters Saturday afternoon, for the 43rd annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Cedar Rapids.
St. Patrick himself, otherwise known as Steve Bryant of Cedar Rapids, will step off at 1 p.m., leading about 100 units snaking through downtown avenues and streets on the traditional parade route, appropriately ending at Greene Square. A green stripe will mark the way, with color guards at the front, as well.
They will be followed by Grand Marshal Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, Colleen (princess) Jayden Saille from Anamosa High School, SaPaDaPaSo Past President Tammy Hill-Maneely, and a flotilla of floats, a fleet of families, a cascade of cars, a covey of candidates, and at least of duo of marching musicians, including the new Crescendo Percussion Ensemble drum line and the Hawkeye pep band from radio station Z102.9.
“We don’t really have a scientific way to determine how many people are actually there,” said SaPaDaPaSo President Samantha Morin of Cedar Rapids. “We usually say a weekday parade probably gets around 15,000 people. We’re expecting maybe 5- to 10 (thousand) more. It seems ludicrous, that number, but with people inside buildings, people outside and how long our parade route is, it’s definitely possible.
“It’s crazy that people flock to downtown C.R. for that. We have a guy this year who’s going to take a picture from the top of a building so we can see if we can kind of gauge for the future on how to count, because sometimes (crowds are) 10-people thick on the curb.”
She hopes that spectators “get the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is super fun. It’s not just about drinking, which it is a good portion of the day, but (the parade) is about family and being together. It creates a family atmosphere, because it’s pretty much families that go down there, and we pass out candy and other goodies.
“It brings the community together, and if you’re Irish or not, you’re always welcome at the parade to have a great time. It also showcases all of our nonprofits and our businesses in the area, which is fantastic. It gives them some publicity, as well. (People might say), ‘Oh, they had a really cool float, let’s check them out.’ Especially for nonprofits, it helps them raise awareness, and people can maybe join or see what it’s about or donate,” she said.
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“We just want everybody to check out what the area has to offer, because Cedar Rapids really does have a lot, and the surrounding areas. We’re extremely lucky.”
Being involved in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Society, nicknamed SaPaDaPaSo, is a family affair for Morin, too. A former Colleen, she also is the third generation of women in her family to serve as president of the local organization that has been staging the parade since 1978, building on the popularity of the first four-minute, 1.5-block-long parade initiated on a whim in 1976.
At 29, Morin said she’s the youngest person to serve as president, following in the footsteps of her grandma, Kathy Barry of Solon, and her mom, Michele McMullan of Cedar Rapids. Morin remembers helping them when she was in middle school and high school.
“We have a unique family aspect,” she said.
She’s actually been involved in SaPaDaPaSo activities since she was 2 or 3 years old, so it’s in her Irish blood.
She’s now knee-deep in her busiest time of her term, which ends May 17. The past few weeks, every spare moment outside her work in the ADM lab has been funneled into parade society activities, and she’ll be taking vacation to help with last-minute tasks.
Parade planning begins in September with the start of the society’s membership year, but “January is when everything takes off” for the 30 or so active members who divvy up the tasks, she said. “Departments start lining things up, and as soon as Jan. 1 hits, it’s all SaPaDaPaSo every day.”
In addition to all the committee members who plan the parade, more than 70 volunteers will don white coats for parade patrol to help with crowd control. About 10 uniformed Cedar Rapids police officers also will patrol the route to keep the environment safe, and a youth baseball group will help with cleanup. Morin calls that “a big team effort,” since they have to work quickly so the streets can reopen to traffic. “We do a donation to them for helping out, because it’s not exactly the most glamorous job,” she said.
While March 17 is the big day, festivities officially launch a couple of weeks earlier to help pay for event.
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The annual Hooley in early March raises funds and fun for the parade, which can cost upward of $10,000. This year’s Hooley, held March 4, exceeded the organizers’ expectations, drawing at least 600 people to Veterans Memorial Building downtown. The party has been growing in popularity, so they moved it up from the lower level to the larger first-floor coliseum this year.
“With a weekend parade, we wanted to see what the response would be,” she said. “If it were in a bigger area, would we get a bigger crowd? And we did. It might be the thing to do every year. We had a lot more room to move around and add activities like face painting” to the roster that typically includes music by the Z102.9 band, Celtic kick-up-yer-heels sounds from Wylde Nept — along with food for feastin’ and beverages for washin’ it all down, door prizes, a raffle and a silent auction.
The fun doesn’t end with the parade, either. It continues at the post-parade party from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Flamingo, 1211 Ellis Blvd. NW. Admission is free, and food and drink will be on tap for purchase. Festivities include a DJ spinning tunes for dancing a jig or two, and parade winners will be announced around 4:30 p.m.
If you’d like to get in on the fun year-round, not just in March, you can do so regardless of your heritage.
“You don’t have to be Irish to join SaPaDaPaSo, as long as you love Irish culture,” Morin said. “We always love new members — we’ve recruited quite a few new ones the last couple of months. We always want new people and new ideas.”
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WHAT: SaPaDaPaSo St. Patrick’s Day Parade
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday (3/17)
WHERE: Traditional downtown Cedar Rapids parade route, Second and Third avenues between Sixth and Second streets SE
EXTRA: Post Parade Party & Celebration, 2 to 6 p.m., The Flamingo, 1211 Ellis Blvd. NW, Cedar Rapids; free admission, food, beverages and spirits for purchase; DJ music; awards presentation around 4:30 p.m.