We love a parade | June 27, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

- June 27, 2008

We love a parade

Danville women brought Fourth of July celebration to town

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Red, white and blue are the order of the day as Danville and the Kiwanis of San Ramon Valley host an Independence Day Parade each year that draws tens of thousands.

The community first hosted a huge party 50 years ago, when town leaders celebrated Danville's centennial with four days of events, Sept. 4-7, they called Hay Days. It included a professional carnival as well as an old-timers bathing suit fashion show, a children's pet parade, a men's whiskers contest, the Coronation of Miss Pioneer Belle, a barbecue and a parade on the last day.

Hay Days continued to be held the next few years, but by 1962 some residents felt it should be more family oriented.

"We were puritan mothers here watching the slightly inebriated parade and decided to clean up the act," recalled Liz DeChene, 81, who lives in the same house today that she and her husband Bob built in 1947. "Hay Days was rather a raunchy affair. The carnival was a complete sham, not a good place for kids to go."

What she and her friend Virginia Deaton really wanted was an event where families could celebrate our nation's birthday right at home in Danville.

"We had just finished the Korean War … the town was full of patriotic veterans, and here we did not celebrate the Fourth of July," DeChene said. "Virginia and I were making spaghetti at a Cub Scout dinner one night and got to talking about it."

Since Danville was unincorporated then, the women tried to sell their idea to the Chamber of Commerce. They were shocked when one man asked, "Why should we celebrate the Fourth of July?" DeChene remembered. The women suggested perhaps the Chamber could at least pay the postage for correspondence to run the event but they were denied.

So they rallied their friends and families and put on a good old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration themselves.

"We started off with a format that was very patriotic and very homey," DeChene said.

The principal at San Ramon Valley High was happy to open the school grounds to the celebration, and all the clubs in town - the hospital guild, Scouts, swim team, women's club and more - put up booths with a penny pitch and other low-key games, and sold ice cream and Coca Cola under the trees. There was also a contest for decorated bicycles.

"Danville Rotary agreed to do a pancake breakfast," DeChene said. "Everybody just pitched in. The town was small and you could do these things."

A color guard presented the flag at a ceremony and Gen. William F. Dean, who recently had been released from a North Korean prison, was the speaker.

"Virginia and I had decided we were going to have fireworks if we had to buy them ourselves," DeChene said. "We were determined our kids not have to go anywhere else to see them."

She personally drove to Richmond to pick out fireworks and arrange for the person to set them off that night on the high school football field.

"When they delivered the fireworks, we put them into the boys shower in the gym," said DeChene. "I figured if something went wrong, we'd turn the showers on."

The Bank of America in Alamo was the biggest help with funding, she recalled. It kept a can for donations handy, and the manager urged all customers to give toward the community celebration.

On the Fourth, the event drew more and more people so Bob DeChene and Bill Deaton went home and got sawhorses and blocked off the road, Liz DeChene remembered.

The two husbands also collected money in a golden garbage can from people as they left the fireworks display when sated residents were ready to pay for their glorious Fourth.

"We counted dollar bills all night and, sure enough, we had paid for it," said DeChene.

After the first successful event, the Chamber of Commerce took ownership. The celebration came to include a parade, which the Kiwanis of San Ramon Valley took over in 1975.

"I suggested to the Kiwanis Club that the club take it over," recalled David Stegman, a longtime member of both the Kiwanis and the Chamber. "After convincing everybody it would be a good civic undertaking, I was chairman for about 12 years. It grew - and grew - and grew - until it is what it is today."

Now families plan their vacations around it. Friends have their favorite places to gather each year and enjoy the parade together. People were setting out their chairs earlier and earlier July 3 to reserve their spaces until the town in 2003 mandated no chairs before 6 p.m. Now some people draw chalk marks to hold their spots.

This year, the Fourth of July Parade, presented by Kiwanis and Heller Jewelers, begins at 9 a.m. - an hour earlier than usual due to the large number of entries and the heat. Kiwanis has asked each entry in the parade to have entertainment value to make it extra special. Rob Goldstein is parade chairman while David Romano and Nancy Bray are heading up the Hay Days celebration.

Parade entries include:

* Cruisetones 1950's Band

* California Historical Artillery Society (mounted living history from 1840-1918)

* Chinese Lion Dance Team

* Concord Blue Devils (band and precision drill team)

* Precision Drill Ministries

* Wells Fargo Stagecoach

* Sycamore Lawn Mower Brigade

* Danville Weekly Marching Band

The fun continues back in San Ramon at 5 p.m. with a party in Central Park and a special 25th anniversary Fireworks Display at 9:35 p.m.

This year Kiwanis also is bringing back Hay Days, holding a huge community celebration July 3 with the help of the Town of Danville and the Museum of the San Ramon Valley.

And Liz DeChene? She says today's Fourth of July Parade is appropriate for the town of today.

"Times change, and they had to change," she said.

"I'm going up to Sonora for their Fourth of July," she added, with a laugh. "They have what we used to have."


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