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Waukesha parade marches into its 50th year

20,000 expected for this year's golden holiday show

Children carry signs announcing the Waukesha Jaycees 13th Annual Christmas Parade.

Children carry signs announcing the Waukesha Jaycees 13th Annual Christmas Parade.

Nov. 14, 2012

Paul Vrakas needed a few minutes to jog his memory.

But soon, they came back.

The city's former mayor recalled the memories of that very first Waukesha Christmas Parade in 1962.

Vrakas was a member of the Waukesha Jaycees, the group that put on that parade and the ensuing downtown parades until the late 1980s before the Waukesha Business Improvement District Board took it over.

"It was always about doing something for the community," Vrakas said. "It was a very well attended event."

Parade officials expectnothing less as it makes its 50th appearance Sunday afternoon in downtown Waukesha.

Norm Bruce, who has taken a lead role in running the parade as a member of the Waukesha Downtown Business Association, said he is expecting around 20,000 individuals to come to Waukesha for the "50 Years of Golden Memories Parade."

The parade, which will see around 100 entries, is from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

"The parade brings the most people downtown to where the streets and sidewalks get so crowded it seems like the whole community is here," said Bruce, owner of Martha Merrell's Books in downtown Waukesha.

Karen White, who opened the Little Swiss Clock Shop on 270 W. Main St. almost 45 years ago, said she has attended all but two of the parades.

White even helped out with the parade for a number of years in the 1990s.

"It's fun to work on," White said. "It's an event everyone enjoys and there's a lot of behind the scenes people who work together to put it on."

With the parade going right by her shop, she closes her business and picks a seat to watch the festivities with her family. In fact, she watched her children march with the Waukesha North Marching Band in the parade a number of years ago.

The love of the parade got passed on to another generation as White said her grandkids now make annual appearances as well.

Family is what got Cal Magnan involved in the parade.

He said his parents volunteered with the parade through the Jaycees and when the Jaycees folded, he continued to make the parade a priority on his calendar despite now living in Eagle.

In fact, he was Santa Claus once in the mid 90s.

He is part of the radio team that makes sure every entry is lined up properly and that the parade runs smoothly. He's been with the parade for so long he jokes that he is one of the "old-timers" on the staff.

When asked how the parade has changed, White said the floats have improved and there are more lights and more music, which she said "all contributes to the excitement over the years."

Others, such as Bruce, have recognized this excitement.

"It was tremendous," said Bruce, recalling his first experience of the parade in 1994. "We weren't ready for that amount of people."

Martha Merrell's is holding Author Mania leading up to the parade as part of the Holiday Stroll to get people to make it a daylong event.

"From a business standpoint, this is a great weekend, but this is about the community," White said.

Another community event in downtown Waukesha is the Tree Lighting, which takes place at 6 p.m. Friday at The Rotunda.

While White said the Silver Bells events add to the energy in downtown, she said "the Waukesha Parade is the real jewel."

Like White, Vrakas has attended his fair share of parades. He attended every parade during his two stints as mayor. And while he has a second home in Florida for the winter, he makes sure every year to attend the parade before leaving.

"I wouldn't miss it," Vrakas said. "I will be there."

Just as he and the Jaycees were at that first one in 1962.

See photos from past parades on Page 2.

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