Faces of the Fourth

Ashland's Fourth of July Parade stormed through downtown in classic American melting pot fashion, Thursday.

Immigration reform advocates, evangelical sign-wavers, bicyclists, motor heads, candy throwers, organic-only growers, wood choppers and plenty of other show-stoppers wooed about 25,000 people on hand for the red-white-and-blue celebration, organizers estimated.

To the disappointment of thousands of anxious parade-goers, the roaring Air Force jets that typically fly over town touching off the procession were no where to be found — their absence the result of one of the numerous budget cuts imposed this year by federal sequestration.

A pair of refurbished 1942 Boeing-Stearman biplanes buzzed over town twice in their place, and the gallivanting began.

"We absolutely love this parade, there is such diversity ... there always has been," said Nancy Holley, 64, of Ashland, perched on the corner of Liberty Street and Siskiyou Boulevard along the parade route.

Holley remembers her first Ashland Fourth of July Parade, around 1989, "the Leaping Ladies of the Lord group was being followed by Parents for Lesbians and Gays," she said, delightedly.

"This parade just seems to be something that Ashlanders really enjoy.

I enjoy all the babies and community involvement and just shutting the town down and having an artistic and emotional expression of Americana," she said.

Just then, a police officer on a bicycle rode past followed by a shirtless man sporting a multi-colored mohawk riding a unicycle, "see what I mean," she said, pointing and cheering.

Running for about two hours with more than 90 entries, the parade went off without a hitch, said Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the celebration.

The parade, themed "Of the People, By the People," was led by Grand Marshal Arnold Meads, who served in the South Pacific theater of World War II.

"There was a lot of great family interaction ... people were staying safe and hydrated. It just felt like a fun event," Flanagan said. "It was nice to be able to honor someone like Arnold, who is so worthy of it and so humble."

Never mind the lack of jets, shrugged three-year-old Case Howser-Daunt, of Portland, who was having fun during his third outing to the Ashland celebration.

"I like when the marching bands come. They are not scary, they just play music," he said, walking with his sister and mom.

"It's a great event for the family every year ... super kid friendly," said Kate Howser, 42, of Portland, a 1989 graduate of Ashland High School.

Three-year-old Morcella Howser-Daunt was looking forward to "snacks."

Across the street from Triangle Park, where the parade started, Brandon Aleshire, 31, of Ashland, was throwing a party in his front lawn. Libations were flowing and the home's speakers were bumping as his friends, family and random passersby watched the parade take off toward downtown.

"I really like this parade. I love how everyone is lined up in a big column down the street," he said, pointing down the route. "I really missed the jets through."

"There is something about the might of those jets ... you can hear the decibel level of the crowd shoot up when they come by, " the Bryan Holley, 64, of Ashland.

Some lucky parade participants got a cool dowse of water from the squirt guns of Stephen Jensen, 64, and Mike Gardiner, 61, who were set up with five-gallon buckets along downtown's crowd-packed sidewalks.

The two men, both from Ashland, water down the parade every year, they said.

"We try to keep it lively," Gardiner said, chuckling.

Southside Tattoo's parade entry kept it lively. Its caravan of choppers and hot rods sounded like a thunderstorm rolling down the street.

Paddington Station, celebrating 40 years in business, took home the grand prize for parade entry.

First place parade entries by category included the Amigo Club, representing nonprofits; Ashland Hardware's antique red truck, representing vehicles; Ka pi'o O Ke Anuenue, representing the family-neighborhood category, Ashland Dance Works, in the children's category and the Church of Ullr, in the faith-based category.

"It's a great parade," said Chelsea Smith, 21, of Billings, Mont. "So many nice people, different, but nice."

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com.

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