Parade queen gets ready for grand, patriotic day
Skokie resident Fern Katz prepares flags to give away during the Fourth of July parade next week in dowtnown Skokie. Katz is overseeing the popular parade for her 24th year. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
What are your Fourth of July plans?
FOURTH OF JULY IN SKOKIE
What: Downtown Skokie parade
When: Noon July 4
Where: Along Oakton Street in downtown Skokie
Parking: Side streets along Oakton, village parking lots
After Event: Fourth of July fireworks at dusk at Niles West High School
Parade donations, volunteering: Call Fern Katz at (847) 674-8602
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:36AM
One of the ways you know it’s that time of year again is by a quick peek at Fern Katz’s dining room table.
If it’s hard to find an open spot on the table because of an assembly of miniature flags, posters, brochures, T-shirts and other related items, it means the Fourth of July parade is right around the corner.
When the colorful barrage of marching bands, local dignitaries, civic groups and entertainers parade down Oakton Street next week — an annual barrage of colorful sights and patriotic sounds that always excite and delight families — it will mark the 24th year Katz has pulled off the popular parade.
What keeps her coming back, she says, is why she joined on nearly a quarter of a century ago: The kids.
“These musical groups that come with young people are just amazing,” she said. “All you hear are negatives about young people. But here are kids passionate and doing something great, and that should be encouraged.”
In 1988, then-Mayor Jackie Gorell asked Katz if she would mind helping out with the Independence Day parade because it needed a push. Katz was a natural choice since she was successful raising funds for Niles West’s marching band of which her son, Scott, was a member.
Katz admits that she was unaware that agreeing to lend a hand would open the way for a nearly 25-year volunteer job. Her work begins in November with lining up entertainment and nailing down contracts. Few people recognize all the work that goes into a parade staged for a few hours every afternoon of July 4.
But that’s also the day when she knows her work has paid off.
“When you’re out there and you see the people lined up — thousands of people all along the parade route — and you see from the youngest to the oldest, it’s just pure enjoyment,” she said. “There’s no generation gap. It’s wonderful. It’s just wonderful.”
The parade is also exciting to her because it mirrors the diverse face of Skokie. Many cultures join the parade, displaying their native country’s flag alongside the American flag.
“We are such a diverse culture,” Katz said. “That’s what I try to show on the street — all the different cultures that live in Skokie. They all participate, and each culture has its own special qualities. That’s what makes our community so nice.”
Katz has a Fourth of July committee that helps out — especially on parade day. For many years, Alan Gerstner and Stony Burt have served a parade coordinators and Bill Novello has served as treasurer.
But for there to even be anything to coordinate, it requires Katz’s hard work that begins when most people are thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The parade costs more than $30,000 to stage. It used to cost closer to $40,000, but since the recession hit, the event doesn’t receive as much in grants anymore. Parade planners need donations (and people to volunteer time on parade day) as much as ever now.
But even with the parade scaled back a bit, most people would never know it. Katz, who also arranges music and entertainment for the parades in Niles and Morton Grove, always manages to put on one grand show.
100 units expected
Nearly 100 units are expected to participate in next week’s parade. Local dignitaries like the mayor, police and fire, the Park District, the township, the chamber and more will be part of the parade. Religious institutions and businesses and civic organizations will be there as well.
Entertainers like the Jesse White Tumbling Team will be delighting kids. And then there are those accomplished bands with young people — many from the area but others from other states and as far away as Wyoming.
Twenty-four years have gone by awfully fast, Katz says. “I was young when this started,” she jokes. “What happened?
Will there come a time when she passes off the baton to someone else?
“Next year is 25,” she said slyly, “and that could be a magical number. Anything is possible.”