“If you’re Irish, it doesn’t matter where you go – you’ll find family.” Victoria Smurfit, Irish actress
That was certainly the case Sunday afternoon at Spanish Springs Town Square as a sea of green, blocks full of smiles and plenty of good old fashioned partying washed over Spanish Springs Town Square.
Villagers and other area residents were prepared for a night of St. Patrick’s Day revelry on the square, but the first order of business among good friends, neighbors and family members was to enjoy the annual parade that draws thousands to the square every year.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York City in 1762, but 257 years later, it’s safe to say the residents of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown have got it figured out and know how to take that annual soiree to a new level year in and year out.
“I just hope everything is all decorated up,” Dave Pendergast, of Spruce Creek South, said shortly before the parade got under way.
His wife, Brenda, said they were attending their first Villages parade and really didn’t know what to expect.
“We’re just excited,” she said.
Young Alex Hanes was enjoying the moments on Main Street before the parade starting by dancing around and having a good time with his mom, Heidi LeViere. They were here from Pennsylvania and enjoying time with family friends.
“We picked this time to visit because I got engaged in The Villages two years ago on St. Patrick’s Day,” LeViere said.
Faye Ivers, of the Village of Osceola Hills, was busy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with her son, Shawn, daughter-in-law Michelle and great-grandson Bryant Meade-Cruz, all of whom were visiting from Maine. Each was sporting some green garb provided by Faye, but Shawn by far took to the top costume prize among the Ivers family members with his green derby, bow tie and extremely oversized necktie.
“She bought this for me,” he said with a chuckle, pointing at his mother.
“Oh, he was a willing participant” Faye responded with a huge laugh.
Meanwhile, Nancy Bloom, who was visiting from Wisconsin, was sporting some huge green glasses that blinked on and off while she sipped a drink at an outside bar overlooking Main Street.
“I bought those for her,” said Bloom’s daughter-in-law, Courtney Arnoldy, as both women stuck out their feet to also proudly display their stick-on rainbow tattoos. “We also got whistles and I have my crown,” Arnoldy, also of Wisconsin, added.
This year’s parade officially kicked off at 3:15 p.m. and within minutes it was drawing plenty of “oohing and aahing” from the fun-loving crowd, many of whom were enjoying a green beer or 10 and taking the spirit of the Irish holiday to new levels.
Jan Wisniewski, of Del Webb Spruce Creek, was partying with her sisters from Ohio, Linda Combs and Pat Mancuso. The trio was decked out in tiny matching green hats and glasses while enjoying a few drinks.
“We come every year for this,” Combs said. “It’s a special occasion for us.”
As is the annual tradition, spectators filled the sidewalks several rows deep throughout Spanish Springs as they jockeyed about to get a glimpse of some of their favorite performers. The many highly decorated golf carts and some decked our furry passengers proved to be a huge hit with the crowd. And as is also the norm when it comes to parades, The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps – sporting snazzy outfits that took green to a new level – garnered plenty of applause as they performed precision routines while marching toward the square.
“We are thrilled to be asked back to perform in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” said Ann Pelle, captain of the team, who was forced to miss the event with an illness. “We are also grateful to the Resident Parade Committee in cooperation with the Recreation Department to have such a wonderful event.”
Elin Jones and Prime Time Twirlers also dazzled the crowd with a routine that saw them tossing small flag-covered batons over their heads to those behind them in line. The Wildwood Middle High School Band garnered praise as its members marched in precision toward Main Street.
And the lovable pooches from the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Dog Club of The Villages stole plenty of hearts as they meandered down Main Street on leashes, constantly pulling their owners over to the crowd to enjoy some free rubs.
First responders and the military were well-represented by several prominent Villages groups. A customized AH-1G Cobra Gunship helicopter golf cart, built over 13 months by Village of Pine Ridge resident and retired Army Lt. Col William “Bill” Shawn made its debut in a Villages parade. And a replica tank golf cart owned by Village of Lake Miona at Bridgeport resident and 23-year Air Force veteran Gary Gariepy was a big hit, as was another golf cart that looked just like a World War II Jeep.
Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was the seventh one put on by the Resident Parade Committee, an all-volunteer group of Villagers. The group’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade was staged on March 17, 2013 after The Villages powers-that-be decided to end parades.
Parades in The Villages previously were put on by The Villages Entertainment Department, which announced in 2012 that they would be discontinued. That set off a furor among Villages groups that enjoyed taking part in the events and after they appealed to the Amenity Authority Committee, a deal was struck to stage an Irish parade in March and the Italian and German parades in October in Spanish Springs.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade has continued to be a huge tradition in The Villages, but this year marked the first time the other two events were merged into a single “Heritage Parade.”