Morgan Hill celebration showcases best of the Fourth

Trish Turpin holds a roll of raffle tickets that will be given

Marching bands, elaborate floats, fire engines, antique cars and
plenty of red, white and blue
– an Independence Day Parade is a thick slice of American
Marching bands, elaborate floats, fire engines, antique cars and plenty of red, white and blue – an Independence Day Parade is a thick slice of American pie. And some consider downtown Morgan Hill’s annual Fourth of July procession to be one of the state’s best.

Just ask Trish Turpin, a personal assistant at Sigma Properties, a South Valley real estate agency. Lately, Turpin and others in her company have been hard at work constructing a cinema-themed float for this Monday’s parade. Weeks before the fireworks start exploding, she boasts she’s been having a “blast.”

“It’s a good way to get our (company’s) name out there, and it’s a good Morgan Hill activity,”she said. “We watch the parade every year, and we just decided to be part of it. We’ve had so much fun with building the float.”

The float will be one of many to convey Morgan Hill’s sense of place and the love residents have for their town.

“I lived in Europe for three years and from the traveling I did (there), I found that nothing can compare with America,” said Maureen Hunt, part of the husband-and-wife team organizing the parade. “And there is no place that compares to living here in Morgan Hill.”

Maureen and Bob Hunt have a combined 45 years of experience in helping put the popular procession together. Both consider themselves patriotic Americans, so the time and energy put into the parade is really a labor of love for them. Plus, they also love their South Valley community.

“We think Morgan Hill is the best place in America. Period,” Bob Hunt said.

So popular is the parade that people come from San Benito County, Gilroy, San Martin, San Jose, Los Gatos, Watsonville and all around the state to volunteer. One participant even comes from abroad: Every year, British citizen John Hodgson travels from London to fly in a World War II-era Stearman biplane as part of the “Freedom Flight” team buzzing over the parade.

Thanks to the Hunt’s diligence in striving to improve the parade every year – the Sunday following Independence Day they always host a pot-luck dinner for volunteers to discuss what can be done better next year – Morgan Hill Independence Day parade was declared “the official Santa Clara County Fourth of July Parade” in 1996. And although the honor is not official, parade organizers consider it the best Independence Day parade in Northern California.

The Northern California Parade Sponsors Association offers guidelines on how communities can compare their parades to those of others cities. For many years, Redwood City was considered to have the No. 1 Independence Day parade in Northern California. But three years ago, the Hunts calculated the total of participating floats, marching bands, equestrian riders and others – as well as the quality of these participants. They saw that the rival town to the north surpassed them in only one category – baton twirlers.

“We ranked ourselves, based on these guidelines which are quite straightforward, against other Northern California Fourth of July parades,” Bob Hunt said. “We are No. 1 of all the (towns) that we’ve been able to make contact with.”

Spectators lining the parade routes appreciate the work that goes into the parade. They are some of the warmest and most enthusiastic crowds Maureen Hunt said she has ever seen. They’re especially uproarious when it comes to cheering on the five grand marshals – men who have served their country in the armed forces. This year’s honored veterans are Billy Tykol (World War II), Bob Bostock (Cold War era), Roger Dahl (Korean War), Dave Thomas (a silver star recipient from the Vietnam War), and Staff Sergeant Camilo De La Cueva (an active Marine who served recently in Afghanistan and Iraq). Why five grand marshals instead of the traditional one?

“Several years ago,” Bob Hunt explained, “we were honoring veterans, and we said, ‘you know, we have so many really deserving people, that we’re going to put a grand marshal in front of each of our five divisions in the parade.'”

The parade has been going on for quite some time – the earliest recorded document of it dates back to 1894. But the parade that year and following decades were so well-organized, the Hunts believe Fourth of July parades had already been going on in the town for many years.

“It was a good parade back then,” Bob Hunt said. “It has a lot of the same features that we’re doing today. They had floats, bicycles, horses and horses and horses. People dressed in patriotic finery. There was a lot of excellent floats.”

Many of the Morgan Hill’s Independence Day events this weekend hearken back to the long-gone days. In the 1890s, children sang patriotic songs at the local school house. On Sunday night, children at Britton School will continue that well-loved recital. Back in the Victorian Age the town held a one-mile footrace on July 4; and so, this Monday morning, a 5-kilometer race will be held.

The folks way back when even held a street dance and an evening fireworks show, two events that are also repeated in Morgan Hill this weekend.

But the highlight for all – then and now – was the downtown parade.

“I don’t know what it is, but people for some reason love a parade,” Maureen Hunt said.

It’s a way for people to feel proud of their country and of their community, said Mary Barger.

“It’s like apple pie,” she said. “It makes you very, very proud to be a part of it – such a great country and, on a smaller scale, our community here. I’ve gone to the parade every year for a long time. I just love to go out there and watch everyone. I love that small-town homey feeling.”

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