Once a year on the Fourth of July, the alley between Calvin Avenue and Giddings Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, comes to life as Hollyhock Lane, the end point of the Hollyhock Lane Parade. Begun in 1934, the parade is the oldest continuous Independence Day parade in Michigan. It is a neighborhood event begun “to Instill Patriotism” and “to Promote Neighborliness.” Although receiving support from the City of Grand Rapids and the Ottawa Hills Neighborhood Association, the parade is organized by volunteers who go door-to-door for contributions and work to continue the tradition.
The parade winds along three streets in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood. Neighbors bring out their lawn chairs and children wait to catch candy. A neighborhood band organizes itself every year to march in the parade and children volunteer to fill the coveted roles of the Spirit of 76 (the flag-bearer, drummer and fife player), Miss Liberty, and Uncle Sam. Several adults who have been Uncle Sam or Miss Liberty in the past return each year to watch the parade.
This not being an election year, the parade was without the scrum of politicians that shows up in even years. But among the participants in the parade were our Representative in Congress, Hillary Scholten, and the Majority Leader in the Michigan State Senate, Winnie Brinks. But both participated as members of the neighborhood, not as candidates for office. Also among the parade participants was the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, Eric Winstrom.
The Hollyhock Lane Parade doesn’t just peter out when the last police patrol car brings up the rear. As they do every year, neighbors turned off Giddings Avenue into an alley decorated with flags and bunting and gathered behind 847 Giddings Avenue to sing patriotic songs and listen to an honored speaker.
Elgin Vines and Company entertained the gathering crowd.
Once the crowd was assembled, the Master of Ceremonies opened the program, inviting the Spirit of 76 to raise the flag.
The Reverend Rebecca Jordan Heys, of Calvary Christian Reformed Church, led group in prayer.
Then the Master of Ceremonies introduced the keynote speaker, Mary Esther Lee, who for years helped organize the parade. Ms. Lee spoke about the ties that bind the neighborhood together. She recounted the story of having moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s not knowing that her backyard was the focal point of activities on the Fourth of July. “Why do you think there was a flagpole in your backyard by the alley,” her neighbors asked. Ms. Lee embraced the parade, joining the planning committee the next year and leading the ceremony for many years.
The program ended with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and the presentation of awards to children who competed in the float competition. The floats were judged and awards were presented by the family of Congresswoman Scholten, a role her family has filled for a number of years before she was elected to Congress.
The winner of the of the award for the patriotic float was “American Shark.”
The float was created by a young boy from New York City. He was here visiting his grandmother. “My mom grew up in this neighborhood,” he told me after the ceremony. And his mother was in the parade back then. Perhaps that helps to understand what makes the Hollyhock Lane Parade so special. For generations it has brought neighbors together to commemorate our country’s independence, to say the pledge and sing our nation’s anthems, to celebrate community and civic spirit, and to teach our children the importance of it all.