History of the Parade
Every year, thousands of Dunwoody residents participate in or watch the Fourth of July parade as it makes its way through our community. Organizations, businesses, churches, schools and individuals build floats, decorate cars, dress in costumes, ride bikes, pull kids in wagons, play music and wave flags as we celebrate our heritage and honor those who have sacrificed to keep us free. It seems as if everyone wants to join in the celebration. Kids of all ages share the excitement and patriotic spirit on this enduring national holiday.
The modern tradition began in 1976 in response to a call by President Eisenhower for people throughout America to celebrate the nation’s Bicentennial. Gerry Spruill was selected chairperson and in turn formed a committee, principally from the Dunwoody Woman's Club membership. When someone mentioned a parade, Lois Kroeger said her husband Harlan loved parades and, to no one's surprise, he was selected on the spot to be parade chairman. With only a few months to plan, the Kroegers drafted family and friends to serve on the committee. Since the community had no parade tradition as a guide, they were faced with the daunting task of planning the event while at the same time selling civic groups and businesses on participating.
The 1976 parade began in the office park across from Georgetown Shopping Center and ended at a reviewing stand in Dunwoody Village. Herman Talmadge, then U.S. Senator, was the Grand Marshal - he arrived by helicopter -- and Effie Carpenter, the oldest living Dunwoody resident was Honorary Grand Marshal. Music threatened to be an insurmountable problem until Chris Adair, a Dunwoody resident who was in the Riverside High band, collected a contingent by calling members of numerous bands across the north side. The band director at Chamblee High School agreed to lead if the kids got something for their efforts; unique tee shirts were printed for each of them (they became keepsakes). A dance band, The Notables, played while riding on a flat bed truck.
Uncle Sam, considered a requirement, became a serious problem (isn't everything?) when the person who volunteered to rent a costume moved away two weeks before the parade without obtaining a costume. Steve Kroeger, 16, appointed by his parents, reluctantly agreed to wear the costume sewn by Lois and a friend (after he became the center of attention, he volunteered to serve again the following year). Not to be outdone, Katie Kroeger, 17, led a group of clowns of all ages.
The parade concluded at a red, white and blue draped platform in Dunwoody Village. After appropriate speeches, music and awards, the first parade was declared a resounding success. For some five years, the Dunwoody Woman's Club continued the parade. Finally, for want of a chairperson, the parade was discontinued.
9 PM Eastern Standard Time, February 27, 1991. The entire nation cheered as President George Bush announced the end of Desert Storm. As the president praised our servicemen and women for the decisive victory over Iraq, Bill Robinson and Joyce Amacher decided that a Fourth of July parade in Dunwoody was essential. After the terrible events surrounding the Vietnam War that remained fresh in people’s minds, they believed that it was important to properly welcome home these American heroes.
A handful of volunteers were convinced that Dunwoody would respond, and do so enthusiastically, to a Fourth of July parade. The next few days were devoted to developing a plan to gain the support and sponsorship of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association. With the blessing of the DHA and three months to work with, a parade committee was quickly formed, calling on friends in the community. All agreed that we should dedicate the parade to service men and women. The theme “Dunwoody Salutes America” seemed to best capture the spirit of old fashioned patriotism that was the hallmark of the Bicentennial parade. Many details had to be developed, including selecting a parade route that had adequate space to assemble and end the parade, selecting a time that recognized other area events such as the nationally recognized WSB parade, and coordinating with property owners, DeKalb County and the police. To encourage participation, awards were planned for a variety of categories. Individuals, organizations and businesses were invited to “decorate and participate.” Tee shirts were sold to commemorate the event.
Feedback from the community was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. It quickly became apparent that the turnout would exceed initial estimates. To guarantee an orderly parade, individual volunteers grew to become sub-committees by recruiting friends and family members. It was necessary to register participants and assign marching positions to minimize confusion and help the judges select winners.
The parade assembled in the parking lot where Dunwoody Club and Mount Vernon intersect, marched west on Mount Vernon, turned left on Dunwoody Village Parkway, crossed Chamblee-Dunwoody Road and ended in The Shoppes of Dunwoody. The closing ceremony was held in the gazebo that graced the shopping center at the time.
Whether it was the tradition of earlier parades or the upbeat mood of the country, getting people to participate was easy. Organizations, businesses and individuals built floats, decorated cars, organized marching groups and dressed in patriotic costumes. The DeKalb County Police North Precinct provided traffic control and there were fire trucks from local stations. As participants marched waving flags and spectators cheered them on, many remarked: "This is so wonderful, I feel like I'm back home." The comment was so descriptive of the small town atmosphere, the parade became known unofficially as the Dunwoody Mayberry Parade.
The Independence Day parade became an annual event, and both participants and spectators alike grew in numbers and variety. The current parade has some 150 marching units with over 2000 individuals in decorated cars, fabulous floats or walking, led by the national colors and featuring marching bands. The route remains as described above, and some 25,000 cheering spectators line the streets. At the end, a closing ceremony features a play area for small children, food served by non-profits, a dunk tank and a ceremony that reminds us all of the true meaning of the Fourth of July. With the demise of the WSB parade, the Dunwoody July Fourth parade is the largest in the state of Georgia.
Starting in 1995, a grand marshal(s) have been selected that have run the gamut from military members returning from combat to local citizens who have served Dunwoody in a meaning capacity.
Volunteers continue to organize a parade that combines a small town feeling, yet with a professional quality that rivals many area high dollar events. Indeed, the parade is on the calendar of most Dunwoodians, not to mention visitors who time their visit to include the parade. May it continue forever.