Milford parade brings community together

A crew from the Westside Diner show off their costumes for the Milford Community Parade in 2017. This year’s parade is Wednesday starting at 6:30 p.m. (Delaware State News file photo/Jennifer Antonik)

MILFORD — The Milford Community Parade, drawing thousands to downtown Milford, is set for Wednesday evening.

To celebrate the annual event, some local residents can even be found in the morning hours the day of the parade placing their chairs along the route to ensure a close-up view of the action.

“I think the thrill is seeing the community getting ready for the parade night with their chairs. We’ve always said it’s nice to see all the chairs lined up and roped off,” co-organizer Carmen Kemper said. “And the community invites their own families from out of town. Businesses prep for the bands or organizations who are stopping in to get a bite to eat to go see the parade. It’s all the way around. We do it out of the enjoyment of seeing all of it come together.”

This year’s event promises the same excitement as in year’ past featuring three reviewing stands, a host of food vendors along the 1.7-mile parade route and live music from school-aged bands throughout.

“The reason that we do this is the actual coming together with the community to not celebrate one particular organization or one political message. It gives the opportunity to all organizations, businesses and families to come out for the theme,” chairman Charlie Gray said. “They even have the day off from school in the Milford School District this year. We have our own holiday. It’s a teacher development day. The district is an unsung partner in this.”

The Gray family has organized the annual parade since the mid-1980s, bringing out crowds as large as 30,000 people or more, Mr. Gray said. At that time, the parade had its own television spot on Comcast TV with up to 10 broadcast times so those who missed the parade or participated could watch it at home later.

“Now, we are into live streaming and have over the last four years now, I think,” he added.

Although the live stream captures the excitement of the parade itself, it can’t take the place of being on the parade route and watching the event first-hand.

“Something that I’ve noticed this past year, on Walnut Street – there’s a lot more of an interest in our residents in having their porch lights on, having their landscaping trimmed, things like that. Those are the kinds of things our out-of-state band members and families see when they come from out of town,” Mr. Gray said.

“We’re not gaining anything out of this other than the legacy for Milford. When you go to one of the porches and say hello and they [introduce their families], it’s countless generations that have made it a point to say this is where you want to be – Milford.”

The event has been rooted in Milford since about the 1920s as the Milford Halloween Parade. When it reached its peak, the Grays stopped the parade for a few years before bringing it back with a fresh look as the Milford Community Parade in hopes of including everyone in the community.

“It started out as a Halloween Parade. But the committee changed it to a community parade, so it had a broader spectrum,” Mr. Gray said.

“Over the past five years, we’ve had an influx or increase of churches participating. For example, we’re very grateful for the Church of God for allowing us to use their property. Now they have a vending spot, so they do fundraising. And we have four or five other churches putting floats in. It’s not just the Elks, the Fraternal Order of Police … it’s the spectrum.”

The parade now comes with its own theme each year, too. The theme for 2019 is “Comic books come to life” in memory of comic book legend Stan Lee who passed away last year.

“We expect to see some fun and superhero-type entries this year. We like to see how groups interpret the theme to get their messages out or fun things to share in the celebration,” Mr. Gray said.

Creative costumes and entries aside, a highlight of the Milford Community Parade for the Gray family and the thousands of spectators who watch the event every year are the bands that perform along the parade route.

“You’re very hard pressed to find the amount of bands we have anywhere else. The most you usually find is seven. We do definitely 10 and some years, depending on our funding mechanisms, we’ve had up to 21. We’ve been averaging about 12 over the last six or seven years,” Mr. Gray said.

Through a variety of fundraising efforts, the Milford Community Parade Committee is able to help pay for transportation costs so the bands can attend. They also pay for judges from the National Judges Association who critique each band as they play their way past the three reviewing stands.

“School systems have changed. Bands don’t have a budget to send their bands out,” Mr. Gray added. “We raise the money to help provide the funds for their bus transportation. That’s what helps us guarantee the amount of bands we have. If not, we wouldn’t have more than local bands.”

The bands also receive a treasure unique to the Milford Community Band, he said.

“They’re getting a taste of what Milford is as a community. One of the most important parts is the Milford High School band. Milford High School is the last band traditionally to go. Their job, even though they created it themselves, we didn’t ask them to do it, is they encourage and clap on the bands. The band directors appreciate that. That’s something special to the Milford Community Parade,” Mr. Gray said.

The parade’s reviewing stands can be found along Walnut Street at the Milford Plant and Garden Shop, Milford Church of God and City Hall. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at the old Milford Middle School and ends at the Milford High School parking lot.

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