Mike Waid has watched the Bel Air Independence Day parade every year since his late grandmother began bringing him as a child. He continues to attend in her memory.
"I don't miss it — every year I'm here," the 34-year-old Darlington resident said as he and his family sat under a tent and watched the procession head up Main Street Tuesday evening.
The annual Bel Air parade, which happened on July 4, capped not only a day of holiday festivities throughout the Harford County seat, but also capped about a week and a half of community Independence Day celebrations, starting June 24 in Darlington.
Bel Air's parade, which preceded Tuesday night's fireworks show, lasted for about two hours. The theme was "One From Many — Celebrating the Creation of the United States."
Thunderstorms came through the area in the hours leading to the parade, but the rain held off for the 6 p.m. start. A brief rain shower passed through during the parade, forcing spectators to pop open umbrellas or seek shelter near buildings or under tents such as the one Waid and his family were sitting under.
The parade did not stop as the marching bands, pageant winners and volunteer fire companies carried on.
Marching bands from nearly every high school in Harford County participated, along with a number of volunteer fire companies, local businesses, pipe and drum units, baton twirlers, community institutions such as the Harford County Public Library, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and civic organizations.
"Thank you volunteers, thank you," narrator Don Morrison said as trucks from the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company passed the reviewing stand.
Other marching bands from as far away as Raleigh, N.C. and Atlanta participated, too, along with hometown organizations such as the Bel Air Community Band.
Honor guards from the American Legion and the Harford County Sheriff's Office — Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler drove the agency's "Tribute" SUV in honor of fallen deputies.
Miss Bel Air 2017 Natalie Brosh followed the sheriff. Winners of a number of other pageants, such as local Miss Fire Prevention, as well as Kathleen Masek, Miss Maryland 2017, could also be seen.
Rachel Bowles, Miss Fire Prevention for the Harford-Cecil Firemen's Association, rode in a pickup truck that bore a sign on the front, stating: "Leave the fireworks to the professionals."
Family tradition continues
Mary Schwinzer, Mike Waid's mother, sat next to him under the tent on Main Street. She was holding her grandson, 5-year-old Brayden Crowe.
Schwinzer, 53, lives in Edgewood, but she spent most of her life in Hickory. She noted the family tradition of attending the Bel Air parade goes back to when she was a child, and her parents would bring her.
The parade is a tradition that continues with her children and grandchildren.
"It's memories built by coming out here each year," she said.
Mike Waid's grandmother, Jessie Richards, died in 2015. She was 81 years old, according to her obituary on the McComas Funeral Home website.
"I just keep coming for her," Waid said. "She was very faithful to get out here."
Lauri Johnson, of Bel Air, and her sons, Brian, 20, and Tony, 6, were among the people who sought shelter under Waid's family tent.
Johnson, 47, said it has been about a dozen years since she attended a Bel Air Independence Day parade.
"It's changed a lot," she said. "It's a lot nicer now — it used to be really fast."
Johnson said the parade was "totally worth it," despite the rain and having to walk along Baltimore Pike from where she parked on a side street off of Route 24 to get to Main Street.
Honors for military and veterans
Local veterans and the active-duty military were represented in the parade, too. Bob Banker, a Fallston resident, who served in the Korean War, marched along with a series of vehicles representing the Jones Junction auto dealership.
He stopped at the reviewing stand, doffed his hat and waved to the applauding spectators.
Morrison, the narrator, noted Banker was representing Harford County veterans.
"Proud to have served the United States of America, proud to be a veteran, Mr. Robert Banker," Morrison said.
Soldiers with the Army's 20th CBRNE — Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives — Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground marched in the parade, along with the APG Centennial Helmet Car.
Sgt. Eddie Slaton, a soldier with the command, watched the parade later with his family.
"It's an honor to march in the parade," he said. "With everybody supporting the military around here, it feels great."
He said celebrating Independence Day "means even more" to him as a member of the military.
Peggy Gross, of Aberdeen, watched the parade with her goddaughter, Nicole Smith. Gross said she attends the Bel Air and Havre de Grace parades each year — she noted her granddaughter is in the Edgewood High School marching band.
The EHS band appeared in Bel Air's parade, as well as the Havre de Grace parade Sunday.
Gross said she likes the overall "entertainment" offered during the parades.
Nicole, her goddaughter, said she likes the marching bands.
"They do cool stuff," she said.
The parade wrapped up with a performance of "God Bless America" by the Uptown String Band, which is part of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association.
Shout out to parade organizers
Morrison acknowledged the volunteers and parade marshals who coordinate the event, and he gave a shout out to parade chair Mike Blum on his 25th consecutive Bel Air Independence Day parade.
Blum drove a pickup truck at the rear of the parade, and he waved to the crowd.
"Rain or shine, hot or cool, left or right, uphill or down, Mike Blum and his crew of volunteers have worked hard to bring you a parade to remember," Morrison said.
About 125 units participated this year, according to Perry Thompson, a parade marshal.
Ray and Staci Magee, of Bel Air, said they enjoyed the parade, which they have attened every year for the past 23 years.
"Bel Air never disappoints!" Staci Magee said.
She and her husband noted the parade is a chance to meet up with people they have not seen in some time. Staci Magee teaches at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air, and she can spot some of her students in the parade — she saw some of them Tuesday marching with the Girl Scouts.
"I like to see who I know in the parade and cheer them on," she said.