Happy days are here!

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 4, 2006

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

From 92-year-olds to 3-week-olds, from Jack Russell terriers to great Danes and from native Albert Leans to visitors from St. Peter, the parade had something for everyone.

And it seemed like nearly everyone in the area made it to the 1.3-mile Albert Lea Third of July Parade this year, bringing flags, pinwheels and patriotic clothes to Fountain Street.

&8220;I like the people, bands, floats, just the excitement of the Fourth of July I enjoy,&8221; said Delores Nasby of Albert Lea.

Fountain Lake sparkled in the warm sun, and the smells of cinnamon mini-donuts, grilled bratwurst and hamburgers rose up from food stands at the corner of Fountain Street and Broadway Avenue. The breeze off the lake helped keep everyone cool as they waited for the parade to start.

&8220;I’m looking forward to the floats,&8221; said Pieter Louters, 5.

Some people had set their chairs out as early as 6 a.m. Monday to save their spots. Parents waited in line at the vendors to buy their kids snowcones and other treats, or struggled to maneuver baby carriages over crowded sidewalks.

Many kids brought plastic bags to store the candy they would snatch from the street after it was tossed by people in the parade. Though kids competed to get the candy, after they got it many shared with younger siblings or offered it to their parents.

&8220;I like watching all the kids chasing candy,&8221; said Deb Jacobsen of Alden.

Meanwhile, members of the Albert Lea Police Department watched the crowd, keeping the parade route clear and standing ready for any medical emergencies.

Tiny 3-week-old Ayden Resendiz spent the time before the parade began sleeping in his mother’s arms. Marianne Resendiz of Northfield goes to the parade every year, and she hoped her son would wake up before the parade started.

Two Albert Lea Police Department cars led the parade, and just behind them post 447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars brought the colors. Everyone in the crowd who could stand stood as the American flag went by, some hastily shedding their hats and putting their hands on their hearts.

&8220;But they get to wear hats, daddy,&8221; said Colby Groe, 5, pointing out the veterans’ caps.

The American Legion Post 75 of New Richland followed with a truck playing patriotic songs. People cheered at the end of each tune, and clapped as members of the National Guard went by in

armored vehicles, waving.

Parade Grand Marshal Marion Ross went by in a beautiful cream-colored convertible Packard Ultramatic, smiling and waving at the people of her hometown.

Kids that hadn’t brought flags got them from the Exchange Club, which handed out free flags as they marched by.

The Albert Lea Marching Tigers were the only marching band that came to the parade, but there were plenty of other bands on floats, including a 1940s swing band, Austin’s Osman Temple Shrine Oriental Band and the Minnesota Over 60 Band.

Kids rapped and did breakdancing tricks for the Crystal-Pierz Marine float, which won first prize overall for $300. The Mary-Go-Round Shoppe won second place overall with its display based on the Andy Griffith Show, complete with jailbird, antique police car and a red-headed boy with a fishing pole.

The 5th Minnesota Regiment Volunteer Infantry won the first prize of $150 in the nonprofit division for its Civil War-era marching display, and the Bayside Skiiers won the second prize of $100 for their pirate ship, complete with snarling pirates and skiers doing human pyramids on the road.

In the youth division, St. Theodore’s Catholic Day School took first prize of $150 with its display of a historical classroom, complete with a stern-looking nun. The Freeborn 4-H club won the $100 second prize for their &8220;Sailing Through Time&8221; float, featuring a sailboat.

Fire department trucks in the parade tested every possible siren they could and collected money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, holding out boots for people to stuff dollar bills and change into.

People on Budweiser’s float handed out keychains. Most politicians gave out stickers supporting their campaigns, but Dan Sparks brought kids on skateboards to perform tricks and stunts for the crowd. Many parade units handed out candy, but a few gave out flying discs and frozen treats.

The Shriners’ little tiny cars were a big hit with kids.

The Sunset Saddle Club and then the city’s street sweepers finished up the parade, and it was 9 p.m. before everyone got to the end of the route.

The crowd packed up its folding chairs, water and leftover snacks and started walking back to cars parked in crowded lots and on every street downtown. Though there were a few traffic knots, everything was sorted out and good humor prevailed as folks headed home, still in a celebratory mood.

After all, the Third of July only comes once a year.