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Updated 07/04/11 – 3:50 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago area residents were celebrating Independence Day on a bit more modest scale on Monday. It’s a day for family, fireworks, and fun; and for many, that means heading out for a parade.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, one of the many Fourth of July parades in the Chicago area on Monday was in Hyde Park, where the neighborhood was holding its 20th annual Independence Day parade.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, was the grand marshal for the Hyde Park parade.
Excitement filled the air even before the parade got underway, as Hyde Park residents came together to prepare for the Fourth of July festivities
Joan Steggemann was helping guide the one-mile parade route.
“We prefer paraders rather than watchers,” Steggemann said.
She said she’s been taking part in the neighborhood parade “from the beginning” and it’s one of the events she looks forward to every year.
“The Independence spirit is great, but what I really love is the community spirit,” she added. “People everywhere come and it’s become a really important thing.”
It’s also the young who make it a point to come out.
“What you’re going to see is our huge, huge, huge contingents,” Parade coordinator Nancy Stanek said. “First of all, we have our contingent of our 4th Ward, our 5th Ward, of our patriotic personalities. Many of them will show up in costumes. Then, following them, is our many, many, many little bikers.”
Stanek called it a homegrown parade, with some years drawing 1,500 participants.
“It’s not so much about how many big, fancy, you know, professional floats we have as to how many people and the spirit behind it,” Stanek said.
Alexus Griffith, 16, was taking part in the parade for the second year.
“This is the one day we can celebrate our independence and actually come together as a neighborhood,” Griffith said.
She also said she already has some fond memories at this Fourth of July parade.
“When everyone sit on the porch, and they just wave and then we wave back and then we kind of have conversations and they ask us about, ‘Oh, what is this for?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘What community are you from?’ and they just actually get so intrigued by the parade and what we’re doing, that they want to be part of it next year.”
The parade has only two floats, but organizers say it’s more about the people coming together than the decorations.
Meantime, in west surburban Villa Park, thousands turned out to watch and march in their annual parade.
As CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports, for many, it’s been a lifelong tradition.
For some, it’s the marching bands, dancers and music. For others, it’s the police cars, fire engines, and military vehicles, like Humvees.
“It’s really awesome, and it’s really good to see them personally up close, because I’ve never seen one,” 9-year-old Jason Nolte said as a Humvee passed by during the Villa Park parade.
But for 83-year-old Russell Coomans it’s the memories.
“Just seeing the kids growing up, like these kids out here,” he said. “I watch them, when they’re 5-years-old, they grow up, now they’re going to college.”
For more than 50 years, Coomans has attended Villa Park’s annual parade along with his wife Norma.
This year, the parade route ran right in front of their home.
“It’s wonderful to have it in our front yard,” Norma Coomans said.
The real star of this year’s parade in Villa Park was its grand marshal, 20-year-old U.S. Marine LCpl. Andrew Pickerill, who just returned from serving in Afghanistan two weeks ago.
Growing up, Independence Day was all about picnics and barbecues for him, but now, Pickerill said they mean much more after he’s served in the military.
“It means a lot more, now that I feel way more a part of the country that I did my thing, I’m happy everybody came out,” he said. “It’s an honor really.”
An honor, many say, that he and his fellow service men and women all deserve, not just on the Fourth of July, but always.