Oak Park Celebrates Independence Day with Pancakes, Parade, and People

Oak Park Celebrates Independence Day with Pancakes, Parade, and People

(Cheryl Weiss, July 6, 2018)

Oak Park, MI- The 4th of July has been a special day with an annual big celebration in Oak Park since 1958, and this year was no exception. From the Mayor’s 5K Race, to fueling up at the Youth Assistance Pancake Breakfast, to watching the Independence Day Parade, to enjoying the Funfest at the park throughout the afternoon, hundreds of people gathered together to celebrate with family, friends, and neighbors.

Although the day was sweltering hot, with a heat index of 100 degrees, fifty runners competed in the annual Mayor’s 5K Race. Medals were given to winners in each of six age categories, and the overall winner was Mark Mischel, age 28, with a time of 20:45.

For many people, it was just too hot to run, but it was not too hot to enjoy a delicious pancake breakfast.  However, this year there almost wasn’t a pancake breakfast, for the first time in decades.

Originally the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, as many long-time Oak Park residents remembered, the breakfast has been a fundraiser for Oak Park Youth Assistance since the early 1990’s.  This year, though, there were not enough volunteers with Oak Park Youth Assistance, and a week before the celebration, it was called off. After complaints by community members, that decision was reversed, and the call went out for volunteers.  Quickly, in just a few days, everything came together.  Oak Park resident Cheryl Daniel not only stepped up immediately to help out, but recruited her adult daughter to help too.  They arrived at 8:30am and were put to work.  According to Daniel, “I enjoyed meeting a lot of my neighbors.”  She also met Mildred Warren, Secretary of the Oak Park School Board, and they discovered they attend the same church.  Warren said, “I come every year to enjoy breakfast.  It’s nice to have someone cook for you.”

Some volunteers have been a part of the pancake breakfast for years.  Ted Kozlowski, of the Oak Park Public Safety Department, is one of those people.  He donates and cooks both pork sausage and turkey sausage.  This year, because of the challenges of putting the breakfast together at the last minute, he also donated butter and creamer.  He offered to support them in whatever they needed, according to Robin Brown Green, organizer of the event.

Another dedicated volunteer was Dr. Alex Bailey, former Superintendent of the Oak Park School District.  According to Bailey, who was celebrating his 25th year volunteering at the Youth Assistance Pancake Breakfast, “This is important to a lot of people.” He went on to share that an event like this affects people, more than some may realize.  It’s a tradition people depend on and look forward to.

Resident Janice Duncan, a special education teacher, also stepped up when she heard of the need for volunteers, as well as resident Tiffany Jones.   “Cancelled?  It couldn’t happen!” Duncan said.  A 37 year resident of the city, Duncan loves Oak Park, the diversity, and how the community comes together on the Fourth of July every year.  “We are second to none!  We embrace each other, we are the model for other communities,” she said.

Oak Park City Council Member Regina Weiss, who works for the Tri-Community Coalition, recruited seven teen volunteers to help serve at the breakfast, and they joined other community members and regular volunteers to make the day special for everyone.  Robin Brown Green of Oak Park Youth Assistance, expressed her appreciation for all of the volunteers, as well as her determination to work to rebuild the organization.  “It’s all good.  The mission is about our kids.  We need to take care of them, we need to invest in them.”

It was not just about volunteers, though.  In order for the breakfast to happen, it took a great deal of support and coordination with many departments around the City of Oak Park.  The Department of Public Works agreed to prepare the area, to make sure it was clean and ready for guests.  Oak Park Public Safety helped with licensing, the Recreation Department contributed the space, and Denise DeSantis, Director of Community Engagement and Public Information, shared the information on social media.

Everyone at the breakfast seemed to enjoy the food, friendship, and fun.  Bill and Fern Compton, former Oak Park residents, live in Florida, but come back to Oak Park for the Fourth of July every year.  They were joined by friends Linda Renforth of Ferndale and Lois Richard of Oak Park.  Cinnamon Banks, also of Oak Park, comes every year because “I enjoy seeing all the people and supporting the city.”

After breakfast, the excitement started to build for the parade as watchers claimed their spots along the parade route.  Some kids scrambled up the hill to watch from a distance, while others wanted to get as close to the curb as possible so they could grab the handfuls of candy that would be tossed to them as the parade went by.

The parade delighted spectators, as they watched the procession go by. A horse drawn carriage majestically carried the 2018 Grand Marshals, Jim and Barbara Weiskopf.  Behind them was the second horse drawn carriage with the Business Grand Marshal, Joyful Tots Childcare and Learning Center.   One crowd favorite was the talented Oak Park High School Marching Legion play for the crowd.  Behind the marching band were the girls of the legion in coordinating dresses, dancing with precision along the route.

Community organizations, such as the East Oak Park Block Club brought their huge squirrel statue in a wagon, with numerous smaller squirrels around the wagon.  Aubrey Meade, the woman in stilts with a red, white, and blue outfit, greeted children and adults as she went by, stopping occasionally for selfies and handshakes. 

And while the Motown Corvette Club have participated in the parade for years, this year they had more than ever.  Some classic Corvettes, some newer Corvettes, all different and all worthy of the stares they received as they drove by.  The Oak Park EZ Roll bicycle group participated in the parade as well.  A Native American man, in full traditional outfit, walked along the route saying, “Welcome to America.  Happy 4th!” The puppies who will someday become Leader Dogs for the Blind were also an adorable addition to the parade.  Politicians walked the route, greeting constituents with smiles, handshakes, and hugs as well.  There were more bands, more community groups, more people to wave to and yell, “Happy 4th!” as they walked by.  Near the end of the parade was an Oak Park favorite – the Oak Park Public Safety Ice Cream Truck.

After the parade, Mayor Marian McClellan welcomed everyone to the Funfest.  She quoted Tina Polk, of the Cloverlawn Concerned Citizens Block Club, saying that the purpose of today’s event was “to come together as a community, and to meet neighbors.  To establish friendships, to encourage neighbors to look after one another, to have fun and fellowship.”  “I couldn’t have said it better,” McClellan said.  She thanked the many business sponsors who made the event possible and acknowledged the many organizations who participated in the parade.

As the band “Persuasion” played, entertaining the community, families dispersed to scatter around the park for the Funfest.  Vendors sold funnel cakes, corn dogs, ice cream, pop, pizza, and Chef Cari had her kosher food truck with fish and chips, among other treats to be found.  Kids climbed on the bounce houses, had their faces painted, played games, and checked out the many activities organized by the Recreation Department.  In addition, the pool and mini golf was open all afternoon.

Many kids were drawn to Amy Greenhut and her dog, John Ross, a German Shepherd who loves people.  Greenhut has been a resident of Oak Park for 63 years, and she loves coming to the park on the Fourth of July.  Her father brought her when she was a kid, and now she brings John Ross.  “It’s relaxing, and fun to sit here, to see kids flock to JR.  He’s a kid magnet,” she said.  One group of children hanging out with Greenhut and JR were Alex, age 10; her sister Bella, age 8; and O’Niya, age 9.  They all had many favorite parts to the day.  Alex said, “I like the parade, especially the dancing parts.  I’ve been coming here for nine years!”  Bella said, “I like the candy!” For O’Niya, she said,”I like the parade and the dancing.” She also had a brief scary moment on one of the bounce houses, though.  “I was on the bounce house and got into a tight space.  I got stuck!  Finally, I got out.”

Traditionally, the Independence Day Parade and Funfest in the park afterwards has been an unofficial reunion for former classmates and neighbors to return to Oak Park and reconnect; this year was no exception.  Pamela Waldman Larkin grew up in Oak Park, currently lives in West Bloomfield Township, but comes back to Oak Park every Fourth of July.  “I was born in August and went to the parade while my mother was still pregnant with me and never missed a parade since.  Forty-nine years of parades!  I look forward to them!”  She went on to share, “I used to be in the parade riding my bike, roller skating, teen volunteer, softball team, working for OPHS (Oak Park High School).”  When asked what her favorite part of this year’s parade was, she said, “My favorite part of the parade was the Oak Park band!  So happy to see so many students participating and walking in the heat!”

It was a very hot humid day, but the warmth of the smiles, the genuine joy everyone shared, enjoying the 60th Independence Day Celebration at Shepherd Park in Oak Park made it a specical, rewarding day to remember.



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