By Hank Beckman
The 2023 La Grange Pet Parade kicked off Saturday, leaving the staging area near Cossitt Avenue and La Grange Road with a lineup of 107 groups.
With people staking out their spots along the parade route as early as 7:45 a.m., the crowd eventually swelled to numbers that were easily in the neighborhood of the expected 40,000, being particularly packed along Burlington Avenue.
About two hours later, organizers declared the day a success.
“It was truly an amazing day,” said Erin Smith, executive director of the parade. “There were no hiccups and we had a great turnout.”
Former Secretary of State Jesse White served as the grand marshal of the 77th edition of what many consider the preeminent pet parade in Illinois. Smith said “Jesse White was amazing. He had tons of energy.”
The presenting sponsor for the parade was Pet Supplies Plus, a newly-opened pet supply store at 15 N. La Grange Road.
Other local celebrities being honored were John Gurney, a St. Francis Xavier and Nazareth Academy graduate who is also a Nashville recording artist and served as honorary grand marshal during the parade, and United States Army Sgt. Robert Hall. The pet parade donated funds to sponsor Hall’s service dog, Eleven.
As has been the tradition since the parade’s beginning in 1947, first in the lineup was the color guard from Robert Coulter American Legion Post 1941 and the Navy Band Great Lakes.
The parade route that began near the La Grange Public Library headed north on La Grange Road, tuned left on Burlington Avenue and came to a stop about 11:45 a.m. at the Lyons Township High School north campus.
There were reviewing stands at key points throughout the route, with announcers keeping the crowd informed on all the different entries marching.
Floats and marchers included representatives from local governments, including La Grange, La Grange Park, Countryside, and local area law enforcement.
Marching bands from Lyons Township High School, Park Junior High School, Lyons Township, and the La Grange School District 105, played throughout the parade.
Various Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops marched, as did groups from area schools, both public and private.
Coming all the way from downstate Arcola to take part in the festivities were the Arcola Lawn Rangers, a precision lawn mower drill team.
And, of course, there were pets all over the downtown area, more in the crowd than actually marched in the parade.
“I noticed more people and sponsors bringing their pets this year,” Smith said.
The Hernandez family, Patrick, Rose and son Jonathon, from Schiller Park, came away with first prize in the animal costume contest, dressing their Shih Tzu-Poodle mix, Mango, as a drum major, with appropriate jacket, helmet and instruments.
“It went with the whole marching theme of the parade,” Rose Hernandez said.
The parade began in 1947 as a project of the La Grange Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Ed Breen, owner of Breen’s Cleaners, had the idea to create an event that would feature the village’s children and family pets.
“This is a wonderful tradition for La Grange and the surrounding areas,” Sue Breen, daughter-in-law of Breen, said before the parade started. “We think of it as the start of the summer season in La Grange.”
The parade grew over the years to include entries from local businesses, schools and nonprofits. It was televised by WGN-TV throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Since the 1990s, the parade has been televised over local cable access on LTTV, the Lyons Township High School television station.
LTTV was there this Saturday, broadcasting the parade from its perch across from the La Grange Village Hall.
Among the parade goers — many who had placed chairs along La Grange Road the night before to secure their place — there were as many dogs as marched in the parade.
Bishop, a 5-year-old Boxer, was taking in the sights with his owner Marshal Kruse.
“We’ve lived in La Grange Park for about five years,” Kruse said. “But we’ve been coming to parade for about eight years.”
One crowd member was thankful for the beautiful summer weather.
“I’ve been coming to this for 20 years,” La Grange Village Trustee Timothy O’Brien said. “This is great. I love the weather. I came to it many years when it was raining.”
Hank Beckman is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.