Villagers lined the sidewalks in Spanish Springs Town Square on Tuesday as the new Heritage Parade made its debut.
The parade kicked off shortly after 3 p.m. and slowly made its way around the square to sounds of cheers and applause. There were plenty of golf carts, Villagers representing their clubs and even The Villages High School Marching Band. And despite the boiling temperatures, there were lots of smiles and positive comments from both those participating in the parade and those who came out to watch it.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Sheik Don Haydu, leader of The Villages Belly Dancers. “It was a great crowd and we had a lot of fun.”
Jerry Peacock, of The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps, said his group also had a great time, even though they definitely felt the heat.
“The crowd was very enthusiastic,” he said, adding that his group had about 18 drummers and 15 twirlers giving it their all. “We really enjoyed it.”
The Heritage Parade is in its first year, replacing the separate Italian and German parades that have been held in past years. The Resident Parade Committee, which relies on volunteers, made the decision to combine the two events while still keeping the Irish parade alive in March.
Judging by the reaction of everyone involved, it was a good decision.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” said Gayle Houseman, who was attending the parade with her husband, Bill. “We’ve been coming to these events for years.”
Gayle said a favorite float of hers was a customized tank shell built on top of a golf cart. It was the creation of Vietnam veteran Gary Gariepy, a 23-year Air Force and Army veteran.
“It was fantastic,” Gayle said, “very special.”
Longtime Villager Joan Testa also was having plenty of fun Tuesday as she walked in the parade pushing a dog named “Sonny Corleone” while bragging about her Italian heritage.
“He’s the Godfather,” she said the Beagle, who seemed to be enjoying the stroller ride and constant rubs he was getting. “This is just great and we’re having so much fun.”
Another Villager who was having more than her share of fun was Irene McGee, better known as Miss Gabbie. The proud member of Clown Alley #179 was pushing a stroller holding a large stuffed animal that resembled a cross between a gorilla and a lovable dog.
“This is my son Tony, who looks just like my husband,” she said with a huge laugh. “My husband (Al) won’t come to these events because he doesn’t want people to get them confused with each other,” she added with a patented clown smile.
The parade also featured a large contingent from The Col. Phillip C. DeLong Detachment of the Marine Corps League in The Villages. Villager Neil Stapleton was leading the group’s Color Guard and said they appreciated the positive reaction and comments from the crowd as they marched around the square in the intense heat.
“What most impressed me is we’re a bunch of old guys and we stayed in step,” the 24-year Marine said with a smile. “We enjoy this kind of thing and we’re happy to serve the community.”
Stapleton pointed out that Tuesday also was a special day for the Marine Corps Detachment because they’ve officially kicked off their annual Toys for Tots Drive.
Fellow member Bruce Jones, who is leading this year’s effort, said there will be about 240 drop boxes placed throughout the community and encouraged area residents to donate toys for needy children to help make this year’s drive a huge success.
Parades in The Villages previously were put on by The Villages Entertainment Department, which announced in 2012 that parades would be discontinued. That set off a furor among Villages groups that enjoyed taking part in the parades. Villagers appealed to the Amenity Authority Committee and a deal was initially struck to stage the Irish parade in March and the Italian and German parades in October. The Resident Parade Committee decided to combine the latter two parades and is hopeful Villagers will embrace the concept for years to come.