‘A winter wonderland’
Hundreds gather as Thanksgiving parade tradition continues
ALPENA — Togetherness, and the warmth of stepping wholeheartedly into the holiday season, gave a joyful glow to the hundreds of people gathered under garlanded street lights along Alpena’s downtown sidewalks Friday.
An Alpena tradition for more than 50 years, the Thanksgiving parade — eagerly awaited by many area residents as a cherished part of the holidays — was inspired by an Alpena man who loves both Christmas and his hometown.
A community-centric planner who throughout his life has been a quiet leader, serving on the city’s retail association, Chamber of Commerce Board, Michigan Retailers Board, and more, Alpena resident Paul Detloff can claim the title as the man who gave Alpena one of its best-loved holiday traditions.
Before 1968, what is now a full-scale parade was a much simpler affair, consisting of Santa Claus being ushered into town on a fire truck to the cheers of children. Longing for something more, Detloff approached his fellow members of the Downtown Merchants Board, suggesting that bands and floats might add to the holiday merriment for residents.
The board gave him the go-ahead and put him in charge of the new parade, a responsibility he filled for the next 28 years.
The first official Alpena Thanksgiving parade, in 1968, celebrated Santa’s arrival with the addition of bands from Catholic Central High School and Alpena High School, plus two floats hand-built by the students at each school.
“From there, it rose and rose and rose,” Detloff said.
By the 1980s, the parade was drawing six marching bands and 30 floats.
In the parade’s early years, floats were mostly built by high school students. The schools were given a stipend to help cover the costs of float construction. The marching bands that attended were given cash as well, and they also had an additional reason to join in on the parade fun.
“We fed ’em,” Detloff said conspiratorially. “A hamburger, a soft drink and fries.”
In addition to floats and bands, the parade featured walkers wearing elaborate, oversized heads of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and other beloved characters. Detloff was able to bring in guest VIPs, from the Detroit Tigers “Paws” mascot to the Budweiser Clydesdales.
In his role as parade chairman, Detloff worked all year to make sure the event was the best it could be. He attended parades all over the state, looking for participants to invite to enrich and enliven Alpena’s holiday celebration.
Also the instigator for downtown’s tree lights and other festive holiday touches, Detloff put his heart, soul, and even body into his parade-organizing responsibilities, enduring raging pneumonia along with his wife one year after they conducted Santa’s arrival in a pouring rainstorm.
The parade was begun, in part, as a way to draw the community into downtown businesses to do their Christmas shopping. It also, though, became a gift he could give the community, adding to the joys of a beloved season and letting residents see, with fresh eyes, the beauty of their hometown.
“The lights, and the wreaths, it’s just gorgeous. A winter wonderland,” Detloff gushed of his favorite city. “I don’t think there’s any nicer community downtown that could beat Alpena.”
Since its beginning, the highlight of the parade has been, not the floats or the lights or the music, but the faces of the people on the side of the street, Detloff said.
“Oh, they’re so happy,” he exclaimed. “It’s the happiest time of the year. You see smiles on their faces, and the kids are all excited and happy, and it’s just one happy time.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.
Winning parade floats
1. Committee to Elect Terry King
2. Rogers City DDA
3. Boy Scout Troop 92 and Cub Scout Pack 3092
4. Alpena County 4-H
5. Huron Shores Fellowship
1. Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet
3. Medilodge of Alpena