The Towson Fourth of July parade has been a staple in the community for nearly seven decades, run with consistency by a dedicated committee of longtime volunteers.
But in recent years, some of those members stepped down, and the committee had trouble finding new volunteers.
So this year, the parade committee is turning to a partnership with the Towson Chamber of Commerce ensure the popular Independence Day celebration is viable for years to come.
"Our committee is in transition — like a lot of volunteer committees are," said Jackie Sims, the outgoing parade committee chair, who has worked on the parade committee for 26 years. "We are looking at it [now] basically as a cooperative because [Chamber of Commerce Executive Director] Nancy [Hafford] has made the chamber so vital, and there's so many volunteers that say they'll do something — and then do it.
"That's what we needed," Sims said, who said this will be the 68th year for the parade. "People that said they'd do a job and then do it."
In total, Sims said four other people who have been on the committee since she started in 1988 have stepped back in the last decade, with their responsibilities then typically filled by the chair. Around 15 veteran members remain.
"It's not the whole committee, but we need to revitalize," Sims said.
Sims said she and former Chair Maryann Albaugh, who along with former Bands Chair Judy Gregory, will both serve as mentors to new members this year, hope to impart their experience to new volunteers.
"When you're dealing with 120 units, 15 bands, the military, elected officials — what people see on the street is just the culmination of a whole year's work. It looks pretty simple, but it's anything but," Sims said.
The parade costs are $30,000 to hold each year, and is funded by donations from the residential and business community.
Sims, Albaugh and Gregory were all at a meeting late last month at the chamber office, where the transition of responsibilities began in earnest. A half-dozen chamber members volunteered for a variety of needed committee roles and pledged to learn some of the tasks Sims had already gotten underway due to deadlines.
The parade committee had approached the chamber several years ago to ask them to step in, Hafford said, but the chamber could not help at that time. Now their members are eager for a new opportunity with Towson Gardens Day and the Towsontown Spring Festival — two other chamber events — both running smoothly.
"We've got very strong committees in those two areas, and the reason we do it is we always have young, fresh blood that comes to help," Hafford said. "They bring new ideas, new energy, and new enthusiasm, and we anticipate this happening in the same way with the Fourth of July Committee—that there will be an infusion of a lot of new people this year with us coming on board, and next year, we'll have a lot more people that will get involved."
Bart Stocksdale, one of the holdover committee members, said the goal in this transitional year is to bring more community support to the parade.
"I think the challenge is to encourage our neighbors to be a part of the committee, and to embrace the parade, since they enjoy it," Stocksdale said. "We're looking for committee members that would help us organize the event, and we're looking for day-of volunteers to do tasks before, during, and after the parade. We need to get the schools, businesses and the churches involved. They've been involved in some ways, but we need to get a little more."
Until then, it will be the Chamber of Commerce engine that drives the parade. Hafford said her members look forward to shadowing the current committee members and learning from a parade mentor. But even in their reduced roles, the committee's old guard might find it hard to stay away come Independence Day, Sims said.
"I said I would come back on parade day if they would have me and could find something for me to do," Sims said. "If you do something this long, it kind of becomes part of your day. If I'm not down on Washington Avenue at 6:30 in the morning on July 4, I don't know what to do with myself."
Community members who wish to volunteer to work on the parade are asked to call the Towson Chamber of Commerce at 410-825-1144.