Naperville St. Patricks parade spreads Irish spirit
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Despite chilly temperatures, the tradition of the St. Patrick's Day Parade carried on Saturday morning in downtown Naperville for participants marching or riding on floats and spectators lining the streets in smaller numbers than in warmer years.
The annual parade, organized by West Suburban Irish, brought Scouts, veterans, local political candidates, business people and even St. Patrick himself down Mill, Jefferson, Main and Water streets in a display of Irish pride and festivity.
The gray day was brightened by everything green — shamrock scarves, emerald green coats, jeans, balloons; neon green wigs and fake mustaches; bright buttons, bows, braids; and even lime-green porta potties in the Naperville North High School parking lot where the parade was staged.
For the 18th year, Bob Welsh of Crest Hill played the role of St. Patrick, his tall hat, cross-topped staff and green vestments trimmed with gold this year possibly being mistaken for a pope costume.
"I used to lead off the parade," said Welsh, formerly of Naperville, whose first-in-line spot this year was taken by two Naperville police officers on motorcycles.
No matter his place in the procession, Welsh said welcoming the families who watch the parade is his favorite tradition of the event.
"I like greeting everyone and saying 'Top o' the morning,'" he said. "Just visiting and being happy."
Parade Queen Mary Kate Zimmerman of Naperville also played a welcoming role, shaking hands with politicians and other parade participants even before they began the route. Before becoming queen this year, the 17-year-old Zimmerman said she joined the parade for 10 years as a dancer with the McNulty School of Irish Dance.
"My favorite part about it is being with all the Irish people and the culture and spreading the Irish spirit," Zimmerman said, whose ancestors hail from County Galway in western Ireland.
Despite temperatures in the mid-30s, the parade scene remained festive as sounds of bagpipes mixed with marching bands mixed with barking dogs wearing green tutus and feather boas.
Canines like Bella the Italian greyhound and Lolo the Border Collie joined staff members of Vitality Chiropractic Center in Aurora as they marched in the parade. The pups joined the procession because the facility also offers chiropractic services for animals, said Erin O'Connor, an animal chiropractor.
The parade took more than an hour to pass any one viewing spot, leaving spectators plenty of time to chat with neighbors, huddle under blankets or umbrellas, gather bags full of candy and goodies or warm up with coffee and doughnuts.
"We like all the dogs and the people, and it's just fun," said Paul Nottoli, a chiropractor at Vitality Chiropractic Center who marched in the parade for his third year. "Even in the cold, it's still fun.
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