Carol Hensley and Vickie Thompson have been helping organize the Lakewood Fourth of July Parade since its beginning stages. Both neighborhood residents, these women jumped on board after riding in the parade with their children. Hensley has been overseeing the Fun Run and the fundraising for the event since the early ’80s, and Thompson takes care of T-shirts, buttons, PR and more importantly, the medals. Through the years, they’ve seen a lot, and done quite a bit more to help keep this community tradition alive. We sat down with them to chat a little about the parade and their part in making it happen.
There always seems to be a good mix of local celebrities in the parade. How do you decide who to invite?
Thompson: We talk it up. Ask around. Ask if anybody knows any celebrities.
Who have been some notable celebrities in the past?
Thompson: We’ve had Burt Gilliam, a local actor [from “Blazing Saddles”], for the past couple of years, Ryan Berube, a former Olympic swimmer, Ron Kirk, several Chiefs of Police, and of course our local dignitaries.
Who are some of the other noteworthy people that ride in the parade?
Hensley: It’s real important to keep our veterans in the parade. These guys are so appreciative that someone will remember.
What’s the most unique float that you’ve seen?
Thompson: We’ve had floats with waterfalls, swimming pools with slides… One year, when the theme was “Lakewood Salutes Heroes,” we had a float that was a giant Hero sandwich. People dressed up as pickles.
Any memorable mishaps?
Hensley: We used to have chair people for each parade. I remember this – the year my family was the chair- it was July 2, 1989 – a tornado came through Lakewood. We had to go up and down cleaning the streets the day before the parade.
Thompson: The parade route is all downhill. The reason it turns at Pearson is because the floats can’t make it up the hill on Lakewood.
How do you go about fundraising for the parade?
Hensley: It’s basically the same people every year who donate – really just our local businesses. We have anywhere from $50 and $500 donations. we have all the sponsors from the previous years’ names on our website as well as on a “Thank You” board that rides in the parade – that’s a big selling point.
Has the parade changed any over the years?
Hensely: Not really – it’s just gotten a little bigger. It’s really a grassroots effort. It’s just a simple neighborhood Fourth of July surrounded by the big city.
Tell me what you like the most about the Lakewood Fourth of July Parade?
Thompson: It gets you out of the house and you meet your neighbors. People for years have had parties in their front yards that kick off with the parade. Kids are walking up and down the neighborhood, you can shout at neighbors you haven’t seen in a long time… you feel like you are in a very small town atmosphere.
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