5 beloved fixtures in suburban July 4 parades
Every suburban Fourth of July parade has them -- unique entries that appear each year and have become highly anticipated fan favorites.
It might be a 94-year-old leprechaun, a classic rock band dressed as clowns, a 1915 circus truck, a patriotic taxi, or a marching band made up of kids jamming on electric guitars.
Parades are beloved tradition in the suburbs as thousands come out to see their local marching bands, businesses and communities groups. Most parades also honor many military veterans and charities.
"You don't want people to forget what this day is about," said Erin Upshaw, who organizes the parade through South Elgin's Parks Department.
These parades have been around for generations -- Wheaton's Fourth of July parade has been going on for more than 100 years -- and each one has a little something extra that you won't find in other towns.
While this is not a comprehensive list, here are some of the beloved suburban parade fixtures:
Bernie Hurley walks down Main Street with Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti during the 2016 Fourth of July parade in Wheaton.
- Daniel White | Staff Photographer
Bernie the Leprechaun
It makes no difference that St. Patrick's Day was four months ago. For the past 60 years, everyone looks forward to seeing Bernie the Leprechaun at Wheaton's Fourth of July parade.
His real name is Bernie Hurley, and he's a 94-year-old local man of Irish heritage.
"He walks the entire parade in costume. Heat or cold, he's there. He's our goodwill ambassador," said Sherry Krajelis, a parade organizer and assistant director of special facilities.
"Everyone knows Bernie."
One year, Hurley wore roller skates. Another year, he rode a scooter ("That was harder than walking! I was sore afterward," he said). This year, he hopes he can walk the entire two-mile route.
"That's up to the good guy upstairs," he said with a laugh.
"I'm an old gym teacher. So I know that if you keep moving, it helps."
Hurley spent 31 years teaching gym at Hawthorne and Emerson elementary schools in Wheaton, and loves bringing joy to people.
"I'm a big showoff, too," he said. "I'm a teacher, so I love every kid. The good ones, the bad ones and the in-betweens."
He ends the interview by saying, "Stay young! Keep moving! God Bless!"
Chuck-A-Roo, far left, & The Fabulous Memories pose during a performance last month at the Elk Grove Village Hometown Parade. They've been a popular act in the Arlington Heights and Glen Ellyn Fourth of July parades for the past 22 years.
- Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
For the past 22 years, Fourth of July parades in Arlington Heights and Glen Ellyn have featured the clown band Chuck-A-Roo & The Fabulous Memories.
They play classic rock and oldies while wearing full clown costumes and makeup that takes two hours to apply. Their music is no joke, though -- they're a professional band that gets the crowd rockin' with songs by the Rolling Stones and Sly and the Family Stone.
The people-loving band leader Chuck Bista, 68, of Lake Villa says people not only smile and wave, but some will walk up to their float and dance alongside them, and occasionally hand them beers (he calls it "clown pop").
"It's something to make somebody happy," Bista said. "Sometimes there are people in wheelchairs and stuff, and I'll jump off the trailer and go to them. I shake their hand or hug them, and take a picture with them."
The parades always generate new business for the band.
"I say, 'We don't have to be clowns. We dress as Blues Brothers, or we can just wear regular clothes.' But people want the clowns!" he said.
The seven-member band includes Bista on vocals, Bob Ossyra of Lake Villa on lead guitar and vocals, lead singer Kelly Dornbush of Gurnee, drummer Donte Bowens of Waukegan, bass player John Beltedio of Gurnee, Adrian Salinos of Lindenhurst on rhythm vocals, and keyboardist Wesley Green of Waukegan.
Dottie Watson of Mundelein rides in a 1915 circus truck that plays calliope music, a fixture in the Mundelein Community Days Parade.
- Morgan Timms | Staff Photographer
The 1915 circus truck
A 1915 circus truck that plays calliope music is a longtime favorite in Mundelein's Community Days Parade. The truck, owned by Sunset Foods in Northbrook, is attached to a Ford Model T car.
Riding in it for the past 10 years has been longtime Mundelein resident Dottie Watson, head of Mundelein's historical society, The Historical Society of The Fort Hill Country and Museum.
Watson's always dressed very patriotically in a stars and stripes dress and says the crowd loves seeing the truck each year.
"People just go wild over it," she said. "It's just something different."
An American Taxi driver always enters the Fourth of July parade every year by himself, decorating his car
- Courtesy of South Elgin Parks & Recreation
The patriotic taxi driver
With a name like American Taxi, the Mount Prospect-based taxi company is a natural fit for Fourth of July parades. In South Elgin, there's an American Taxi driver who enters his car into the parade each year, decking out his vehicle in red, white and blue decor.
"Obviously, it promotes the business. But we don't just do it for promotion," says American Taxi coordinator Flor Lopez.
A different driver does it each year, and he or she often brings family members to ride the route.
"The drivers enjoy it," she said. "They kinda feel like a celebrity."
While American Taxi has vehicles in a few other suburban parades, South Elgin is one of the longest-running traditions for American Taxi, going back at least five years.
The marching electric guitar band, by Hix Brothers Music in Aurora, is one of the popular acts in Aurora, Batavia and Geneva.
- courtesy of Hix Brothers Music
Marching guitar band
They're taking a hiatus this year and hope to return again next year. But for the past decade, the Fourth of July parades in Aurora, Batavia and Geneva have featured "the world's one and only marching guitar band," Hix Brothers Music Marching Guitar Band.
Made up of dozens of kids and a few adults from the local Hix Brothers Music school, they walk in marching band lines and play electric guitars with battery-powered amplifiers slung on their backs. They get the crowd rockin' with songs like Jimmy Hendrix "Purple Haze" or Muse's "Uprising."