Funding for the annual Fourth of July parade in Bethany Beach is a far cry from where it has been in the past, but that hasn’t stopped Philip Rossi – chairman of the all-volunteer parade organizers – from assembling one of the best parades yet. This year, the parade is turning a quarter-century young and, amid renowned musical entertainment, a grand assembly of floats and bikes and fun for the entire family, the anticipation is still there.
“With the parade turning 25,” said Rossi, “we don’t want to hold back.”
Ever since last fall, he has been working tirelessly to pull together another summer highlight, with help from Bethany Beach Events Coordinator Gloria Ferrar.
“Gloria’s been a great help to me,” Rossi said. “We want this to be something that people look back on for a long time. A lot of people think that the preparation for this starts on July 1. That’s not the case. We start work here on Sept. 1 for next year’s parade. The early bird gets the worm!”
This year’s theme honors the inaugural parade, which dates back to July 4, 1984.
Local artist Jennifer Carter has even designed this year’s commemorative fundraising shirts for the event by depicting some of the memorable scenes from the Bethany Beach tradition. On the front of the T-shirts, Moss Wagner, the first parade’s grand marshal, leads the way, with fellow first-year committee member Patsy Rankin following on horseback. Longtime Bethany town council member Jane Fowler is pictured behind with a handful of balloons, also reminiscent of the first parade.
Rankin, who served as the parade’s original chairman, will be recognized as this year’s grand marshal.
And, for the first time, the 4th of July Parade T-shirts will have print on the back, as well. This year, five logos from earlier posters and prints capture some of the memorable parades of the past, all in one design.
“This is a great way to give back,” said Rossi, “and honor those who have really made the parade what it is today.”
The parade itself will be held this year on Friday, July 3, starting at noon, due to July 4 falling on a Saturday.
“When it lands on a weekend,” said Rossi, “we can’t use the church grounds. It also makes it harder with the weekend travelers.” The Fourth of July fireworks, however, are still set to go off on Saturday evening, July 4, at dusk.
Funding for the parade has always been a task, and this year is no exception.
“People say, ‘Why should we give money to parade when [we] pay taxes in Bethany Beach?’” said Rossi. “They don’t realize that this is a sole, independent, volunteer organization. We don’t receive funding from the town. All of the money comes through donations from the community.”
Monies and donations are solicited from local businesses in an effort to bring back the parade each year. In addition to T-shirt sales, funding is sought after from area businesses, civic groups, homeowners’ associations and individuals. Funds are required to cover breakfast for the 100-plus volunteers the morning of the event, bike decoration kits for the parade, renting of church grounds for parking space and activities, and payment to the bands performing.
Fortunately, local companies have made offerings of help, such as Lords Landscaping, 84 Lumber, Gerald Hocker and Miken Builders, who are providing trucks for the parade. The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and Bethany Beach Police Department provide assistance in the parade, and the Bethany Beach Public Works staff has been instrumental in the preparation as well, organizing the route and parking. The BBVFC Women’s Auxiliary pulls together, as well, assembling lunch for the bands and entertainers.
Additionally, DiFebo’s restaurant held “Cooking for a Cause” in late March, donating a portion of their sales to the parade committee.
“Because of the downturn in the economy,” said Rossi, “I felt that we’d be hurting. We tried to do a lot of things to offset it by reducing expenses, and we’ve come a long way so far.”
He added that the event has really incorporated the entire beach community, which helps to pull in more support.
“It’s called the Bethany Beach 4th of July Parade because that’s where it’s held,” he said. “It’s really a parade for the entire community. We have mayors of local townships involved, and a lot of people who live and vacation around here come out, not only those in Bethany.”
This year, five busloads of bands will roll into Bethany Beach for the parade. The marching band lineup includes the 287th Nation Guard Army Band, The Trilby String Band – a Mummers band from Philadelphia, The Tidewater Brass Band, the Caesar Rodney Brass Band, the Smyrna Volunteer Fireman’s Band and a bagpipe band.
Entertainers will also be riding along on floats and flatbeds, bringing their musical entertainment. Those acts include Al Santoro & the Hi-Liters, Back Bay Strummers, the Delaware State Police Academy (DSPA) Steel the Show Band, the Milford Community Band, the Nautical Sounds, the Philadelphia German Brass Band, German Ump Pa-Pa Band and the Paddlewheel Strutters.
The Mini-Corvettes and clowns will also be participating, courtesy of the NUR Shriners, supporters of the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Kromer’s Antique Carousel Organ, which was featured in parades dating back to 1989, will also be featured.
Former chairpersons of the parade committee will be honored for their contributions to date, including Rankin (1984-1989), Dave Flickinger (1990-1993), Jack Riester (1994-1999), Joe Lane (2000-2003) and Rossi, who’s headed the committee since 2004.
Sea Colony and Cripple Creek Country Club are among the newcomers entering commercial floats in this year’s parade.
Floats and marchers are eligible for awards, based on their originality, presentation of the parade theme and color.
The 21st Annual Horseshoe Contest will be held on the Christian Church Grounds in downtown Bethany at the conclusion of the parade, around 2 p.m. The award presentation for parade winners will be held at the bandstand at 7:15 p.m., prior to the 7:30 p.m. performance by the Philadelphia Brass Band.
“Everybody makes a huge effort,” said Ferrar, “It’s an all-American event.”
Along with the community sponsors, T-shirt sales and individual donors, the 2009 parade will be supported by a new event. This coming Sunday, June 28, the First Annual Bethany Beach July 4th Firecracker 5K Run/Walk will be held as a promotion and fundraiser for the parade. Greg Mavraganis has coordinated the run/walk and said he has high hopes.
“With the parade being in its 25th anniversary,” he said, “we thought it was a good time to give an event to support parade. It’s also an opportunity to have another event associated with Fourth of July weekend. The parade is a great family event with a lot of spirit throughout the community. I hope to get a lot of runners this year and eventually build it into something that people look forward to every summer.”
The 5K will start on June 28 at 8 a.m. Registration forms are available at the Bethany Beach town hall. For further information about the Firecracker 5K, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Greg Mavraganis at (202) 277-1423.
Fourth of July Parade t-shirts are available during business hours at Bethany Trading Co., Pitter-Patter and DiFebo’s restaurant, and at the Bethany Beach bandstand on the boardwalk, during performance evenings. “Our t-shirt sales have really been a big help,” said Rossi, who decided not to raise the price of last year’s shirts, which are still $10 for children and $13 for adults, despite the front-and-back print and color logos.
“The 4th of July parade in Bethany Beach is true Americana,” Rossi added. “This is why you come down here. It’s captures the summer and involves everybody.” For more information about the Bethany Beach 4th of July Celebration, which kicks off at noon on Friday, July 3, visit www.townofbethanybeach.com or call Philip Rossi at (302) 539-2805.