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Team effort makes winning float for holiday parade

Ralph Reise, left, and Ken Vrtacnik, both of Westminste, work together to cut out the figure of a bear that will become part of the Carroll Lutheran Village's float on Nov. 11
Ralph Reise, left, and Ken Vrtacnik, both of Westminste, work together to cut out the figure of a bear that will become part of the Carroll Lutheran Village's float on Nov. 11 (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

The smiling gingerbread men and the gaily frosted cookies captured the hearts of the judges at last year's Miracle on Main Electric Light parade in Westminster. As a result, Carroll Lutheran Village's float won the "the Spirit of the Season" award to the delight of its creators.

It also taught the group from the 90-acre retirement community a valuable lesson – no more white plastic foam.

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"There was Styrofoam all over this place" said Shirley Daniels, gesturing at her garage, the designated work area for the past six years for the Village's float entry.

"Everybody would look like a snowman, and it didn't come off," agreed Ken Vrtacnik of working with it.

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This year, for the parade on Nov. 29, the group of a dozen neighbors is using plywood to create Santa's elves and the toys in Santa's workshop. They came together in October to discuss ideas for this year's float, according to Richard Daniels, Shirley's husband. They printed various images of elves, made a small model of a float, drew up plans and went to work

"They come up with the idea and run with it," said Lisa Albin, director of church and public relations at the Village. "We just pay the bill. It is wonderful. They represent us so well."

The Village contributes between $300 and $400 for supplies, Albin said. Last year's award included $100 as well as a trophy.

"They try to reuse as much as they can," Albin said. "Lights only last so long."

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Lots of lights and no image of Santa Claus are two of the main rules for parade entries, Richard said. So, while there won't be a Santa Claus overseeing the elves on the float, Santa's presence will be felt, Richard said, pointing to a large black caldron filled with plywood cutouts of toys.

"That will be covered with burlap and be Santa's sack," he said.

There are typically about 50 entries in the parade, according to Abby Gruber, director of Westminster's Recreation and Parks.

"We get quite an eclectic mix," Gruber said, of participants ranging from businesses like Home Depot to small veterinary clinics to Carroll Lutheran Village residents.

"They are fun to work with," Gruber said of the Village float group."They're a great group of people."

Always held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the parade is part of a slew activities planned, including a tree lighting, Santa's arrival and Main Street shopping. The parade runs about an hour.

"It is the perfect amount of time for people to sit outside," Gruber said. "It can be chilly, with the potential to be very chilly."

There have been several cold years, Richard said, and one fairly warm one. The group learned quickly one windy year that copper wire does not secure things and steel wire was needed.

"We've learned a lot," Richard Daniels said. "It has to be weatherproof because it will be sitting outside. It's got to be able to fit in my garage. We're learning all the time."

The Daniels are meeting a lot of their neighbors working in the garage.

"I can't walk by here without somebody yelling 'Hey Ralph,'' said Ralph Reise, explaining how he got involved by suppling a needed tool.

"We're all neighbors," Vrtacnik said. "Everybody's done a little bit of something."

"We have a lot of different talents," Richard Daniels said of his neighbors. "You'd be surprised what people have in their garages."

Last year's cookies will be included in decorations on the grounds of the Village, as are the presents used on the Village's first float six years ago, Albin said.

"We find somewhere to put them on campus so other people can enjoy their handwork," Albin said.

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon until Thanksgiving, Richard and his crew are in the garage, working on the float. On the Friday before the parade, the group will mount and secure everything on the Village's trailer. All agree that traveling the parade route and seeing all the children and people is worth all the work, though Richard does have an extra glint in his eye this year.

"I want to defend our title," he said.

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