Appleton Flag Day Parade is Back!

by Tim Froberg

Few cities celebrate Old Glory quite like Appleton.

Its Flag Day Parade is a colorful, two-hour salute to American patriotism … and it will be marching back into our lives.

The 70th annual Appleton Flag Day Parade — billed by organizers as the nation’s oldest of its kind — will be held June 12 following a year’s hiatus due to the global pandemic.

The Saturday afternoon parade recognizes freedom in our country and honors military veterans. It will feature as many as 100 units representing U.S. military branches along with veterans’ organizations, civic groups, and scout troops. There will be floats decorated in patriotic fashion, decorated vehicles, walking units, and marching bands from military organizations and local high schools.

The parade starts at 2 p.m. at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Oneida Street and proceeds west on Wisconsin Avenue and south on State Street, before heading east on College Avenue to Drew Street, where it will disband. The parade routinely draws a huge crowd in the 60,000-plus range.

“I think it’s going to be something that lifts everyone’s spirits,” said parade committee chairperson Corey Otis. “We’re especially excited to be one of the first events to welcome back a big crowd and get us closer to normal.”

The event was launched in 1950 by the Appleton Elk’s Club and has been a June fixture in Appleton — with the exception of 2020, when it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

“Last year we had to make a call,” Otis said. “Looking back with the way the pandemic was going, we made the right call. This year, things weren’t looking so good in January when we first started talking about the parade. But the vaccines really were a game-changer. Once the shots started going into the arms and the cases began going down, the picture cleared.”

Otis said the latest CDC recommendations and guidelines will be followed. He asks that parade spectators check the Appleton Flag Day Facebook page along with city of Appleton websites for updated information regarding safety precautions such as the wearing of masks and social distancing.

This year’s parade theme is “Home of the Brave,” honoring hometown heroes of the pandemic: front-line workers from various healthcare organizations.

“We’re paying tribute to essential workers from healthcare who helped keep the community afloat and the country going,” Otis said. “Fifty healthcare workers are going to be our honorary parade marshals. We’re working on getting them full-sized U.S. flags. We think it will look really cool and also be emotional for the crowd.”

This is the third year that Otis has served as parade committee chair. He succeeds his father, Greg, who handled parade duties for 33 years.

“I like to joke around city hall that my dad did this 33 years, and it was basically the same show for 33 years,” said Otis. “With the pandemic, we’ve had to come up with alternate plans, creative solutions, and kind of reimagine everything.

“A big key has been finding music, because the high schools have been struggling to put their bands back together and rehearse. But we have the local high school bands scheduled, and we’re excited to get those bands back on the street.”

If there is a negative trend and an unexpected surge in COVID-19 cases, the event will be rescheduled for Sept. 11.

And if it rains? Well, Otis and fellow organizers don’t even want to think about it.

“We never use the ‘R’ word around parade time,” Otis said. “It’s kind of funny. My brother-in-law usually helps us out with the parade and his name is Rayn. But we’re not allowed to call him by his first name when it’s getting close to the parade. My dad instituted that rule.”