The year was 1959; my very first Pet Parade.
I was six years old, sitting on the curb at Kensington Avenue and the tracks, all decked out in my rice paddy hat, and excitedly grasping my first ever neon pink cotton candy. The sun was bright and the excitement was palpable. Everyone was smiling. It was Pet Parade Day in La Grange!
There has only been one fateful year I have missed the Pet Parade when I briefly lived out of state. So regrettable! But I have happily seen 53 of the 66 parades with this year’s grand event. As everyone knows, it is my favorite day of the year. The thrill of the early morning sounds of practicing bands, the sight of floats erratically lining up, little ballerinas and cowboys nervously arranging their pets’ costumes, horses prancing and snorting, dogs everywhere, families hurrying down the side streets, wagons loaded with folding chairs, coolers, blankets and hooded babies. School’s out, the sun is shining, and the kids are wild with anticipation; even middle-aged kids like me.
2012 marks 66 years the La Grange Pet Parade has graced our dynamic little village. It began with a modest effort of two dozen dogs and children—including a “Homeliest Dog” section—but quickly grew to historic prominence equal to Mardi Gras and the Pasadena Carnival of Roses. The first national WGN telecast was in 1953, which prompted 20 years of celebrity grand marshalls and guests. These days, we are honored to have various sports figures, teachers, coaches, village officials and war veterans, all well-known for their many accomplishments. But consider the caliber of TV stars and celebrities, at the height of their fame, that the Pet Parade was able to attract in those golden years.
The Stars of the Pet Parade:
1951 Red Grange, Hollywood actor, and Marlin Perkins, star of TV’s Wild Kingdom.
1952 Gabby Hayes, radio, film, and TV actor.
1953 Actress Debbie Reynolds, child star Bobby Benton and early TV star Mary Hartline.
1954 Film star Jack Palance, TV cowboy and musician Bob Atcher and Fran Allison with Kukla Fran & Ollie.
1955 Pat Brady and Bullet from the Roy Rodgers Show.
1956 Rusty (Lee Aaker) and Rin Tin Tin, as well as Annette Funicello and Sammy Ogg from the original Mickey Mouse Club TV show. (Chico Marx was a no show).
1957 Micky Braddock, star of Circus Boy, later the drummer for the Monkees.
1958 Dick Simmons, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, with Yukon King.
1959 Duncan Renaldo, the “Cisco Kid."
1960 Nick Adams, Johnny Yuma of The Rebel
1961 Kevin Corcoran, the child actor in Old Yeller and Swiss Family Robinson. Also, Tony Young, star of Gunslinger.
1962 Jay North from Dennis the Menace and Michael Landon from Bonanza.
1963 Max Baer, Jr., who played Jethro Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.
1964 Luci Baines Johnson, the 16-year-old daughter of the president (less than seven months after President Kennedy was shot), and Johnny Crawford of the Rifleman.
1965 David McCallum, who played Ilya Kuryakin on The Man from Uncle. His car had to be removed from the parade because of all the crazed teenaged girls hanging on his car; myself included. Also, Barry Livingston, star of My Three Sons.
1966 Guy Williams, who played Professor John Robinson on Lost in Space and played the lead on Zorro.
1967 Lee Majors from Big Valley and later, The Six Million Dollar Man.
1968 Frank Sutton who played Sgt. Carter of Gomer Pyle, USMC, and world-famous clown Emmett Kelly, Jr.
1969 David Canary, who played Candy on Bonanza.
1970 Deanna Lund and Don Matheson of Land of the Giants.
1971 Susan Dey and Danny Bonaduce of The Partridge Family and James Drury of The Virginian.
1972 Ann Henning, Olympic Gold medalist in speed skating, and Victor Sen Yung who played Hop Sing on Bonanza.
Major celebrities such as Frazier Thomas, Lee Phillip and Morris the Cat were guests numerous times as well.
Many of the celebrities came through the efforts of William Mason, former president of La Grange and vice president of Quaker Oats Co., due to a tie-in with Quaker’s dog food commercials. The celebrities generally were expected to give autographs after the parade. They would stay at the Masons' or Pet Parade founder Edward L. Breen’s home, much to the delight of their children and neighbors.
I hope to see you at the Pet Parade this year! I am the sentimental fool getting teary-eyed when my alma mater passes by with their glorious band. I wave at every float, every school King and Queen; clap loudly for every clown trick and gymnastic feat; whistle at neighbors dressed as Indian Princess Dads; fake scream at the Shriners’ swords, snakes and crazy magic carpet antics; and take pictures of the cutest kids with their quirky, little pets—the true stars of the parade. I am still missing my rice paddy hat, though.
What a delightful slice of Americana celebrating spirit and creativity, family fun and the beginning of summer days in our lovely village of La Grange, Illinois.
Laureen Dunne has been a resident of La Grange since she was in kindergarten, and has also raised her own children here. Dunne works as a real estate attorney and occasionally teaches oil painting at the La Grange Art League.