Howard County parades celebrate independence

There's something to be said for just showing up, and in Howard County on Wednesday, July 4 that something was written in red, white and blue, and punctuated by an exclamation point.

"We've never missed a parade, and it's always on the Fourth," said Longfellow parade organizer Barbara Russell. "We're here rain or shine."

The Longfellow Fourth of July Parade, which bills itself as the "oldest continually operating parade in Howard County," celebrated its 42nd year on Wednesday morning. As part of the tradition, Longfellow names an honorary grand marshal and gives the "Good Neighbor Award" to two members of the community every year.

This year, new county Schools Superintendent Renee Foose was named grand marshal and former teacher and volunteer Tony Yount was recognized with the "Good Neighbor Award."

For many Longfellow residents, it's that community environment and emphasis on tradition that keeps them coming back year after year.

"All these years later and everyone's still proud to be here," former Longfellow resident and childhood parade participant Linda Fousek, of Ellicott City, said. "We have a parade in our neighborhood, but I'd rather come here."

Although it may not be steeped in as much tradition as Longfellow's, the River Hill parade in Clarksville, celebrating its 13th year and also held Wednesday morning, has managed to carve out a niche all its own.

"It's great for the kids with the candy, and compared to some of the other parades it's a little more family-friendly," said Oella father Tim Lovell.

Lovell said that after a few years of viewing the parade on the sidelines, he ended up getting involved by donating his '64 blue Ford pickup to the local Girl Scout troop a few years ago. Although Lovell's Ford is an American classic, the competition for best car in the parade is stiff thanks to members of the American Legion Post 300 in Columbia, who roll up year in and year out with a growing fleet of classic cars.

Among them were Clarksville residents Steve, Kate and Brenden Murphy, and their 1913 Ford Model T.

"A lot of people can't figure out what it is," Steve Murphy said. "It's a cab that used to run from train stations to hotels."

The Murphys, who started coming to the parade a few years ago, are just one of the many local families that has helped the parade grow over the years.

"It's very grass roots and community based," assistant village manager and 13-year parade coordinator Susan Smith said. "It's a fun event, but we're here in celebration of our nation's independence and democracy."

Not losing sight of the celebration's significance is something that Russell and the Longfellow contingent stress, too.

"As a student of history and having had my father, husband, and son serve in the armed forces, this is a very special day, and it has to be celebrated on the fourth of July," Russell said. "You wouldn't celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving on a different day, would you?"

Russell's husband Bob was the parade's emcee, organizer and driving force for 15 years until he passed away two years ago. In 2010, Bob Russell's last parade, County Executive Ken Ulman officially named the Fourth "Bob Russell Day" in Howard County.

Although the Russells took over the reins of the celebration when the original group of organizers retired in 1995, the parade's forefathers can still be seen at the parade, either on one of its many floats or enjoying the view from the sidewalk.

One of those is Longfellow resident Linda Nedzbala, who said the idea for the event sprouted from a dinner conversation among a group of local couples reminiscing about their childhood Independence Days.

"They probably had a few too many glasses of wine and said, 'Let's do this,' and forty years later we're still doing 'this'," Linda's daughter Kim Nedzbala-Judd said.

For Nedzbala-Judd and her mom, the occasion is an opportunity to catch up with old neighborhood friends and spend some quality time together.

Nedzbala also pointed out the parade's history of quirkiness and flair, which have included impersonations of Nancy Reagan's astrologist and appearances by a man-eating chicken.

"We just put a man on a float eating a bucket of fried chicken," Nedzbala said. "It's a man-eating chicken!"

Although Longfellow has a history of quirkiness, there's really nothing quite like the "Lawn Chair Dads," who have been a staple at River Hill's parade since it began.

"Our main job is to give the parade sex appeal," group founder Chris Wertman said amid a chorus of chuckles. "That's the whole reason we're here."

The international group — three members hail from Great Britain — is known for their wacky garb, which consisted of a white tank top, American flag shorts, high black dress socks and dress shoes, and unconventional, precision rifle routines, where lawn chairs take the place of firearms.

"We just have fun with it," Wertman said smiling. "We aren't the Marine Corps, but we come pretty close!"

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