Before the customary Fourth of July backyard barbecues and fireworks displays, the annual Morgan Hill Independence Day parade kicked off the cascade of local, national and cultural traditions that accompany the holiday Wednesday.
More than 140 entries lined the parade route with ornately decorated floats, horseback riders, dancers, cheerleaders and marching bands. Guests of honor rode atop classic convertibles, and fire trucks and police cars from the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, as well as Santa Clara County, were featured in the parade.
The theme of the parade was “Happy Birthday America,” and several entrants, such as Johnson Lumber and Crossroads Christian School, appropriately decorated their floats with giant birthday cakes made of cardboard, papier-mache and other materials.
Employees and volunteers from Commonwealth Community Bank carried an inflatable birthday cake that towered above the procession.
Marching bands from Live Oak and Sobrato high schools, the Emerald Regime alumni band and several other schools in the South Bay Area played throughout the parade.
Mayor Steve Tate led his colleagues from the City Council who rode in the parade in individual cars toward the beginning of the procession.
After the parade, Tate said the event “gets better every year.”
“To hear people shouting ‘We love Morgan Hill’ at you (from the parade audience) makes you really proud to be here,” Tate said.
He also praised events leading up to the Freedom Fest, especially the annual Patriotic Sing, which featured local children and veterans singing patriotic songs July 3 at Britton Middle School.
Spectators enjoyed the traditional, small-town vibe of the annual Freedom Fest parade, which is sponsored by the nonprofit Independence Day Celebrations.
Martha Haro, 57 of San Martin, said the many honors and tributes paid by parade entrants to fallen soldiers, Sept. 11, 2001 victims, police and firefighters, and “all the people that give their service” stood out to her.
“It was very emotional,” said Haro, who attended the parade with her husband. The classic-car enthusiasts were checking out the annual post-parade car show at Wells Fargo bank when the procession was over.
The couple have lived in San Martin for 20 years, but this was their first time watching the Morgan Hill Independence Day parade. Haro was impressed, and plans to continue attending in the future.
“It was very well-organized, there were lots of children and it’s very family oriented,” Haro said.
The Independence Day is a secure tradition for Laurie Corral of San Martin. She has been to the parade every year for at least the last 32 years, she said. Corral showed up early Wednesday morning with her family and friends to stake out a good view on Main Avenue.
She said the parade has “gotten a lot bigger, and more crowded” over the years.
The group, like many who attended the parade, planned to continue celebrating the holiday with even more traditions – an afternoon barbecue and the evening fireworks display at Community Park.
To Corral, the Fourth of July is about “getting together with friends, and catching up with people you haven’t seen for a long time.”
Being a participant in the Independence Day parade was nothing new to Kai Leong, 12 of Morgan Hill, and his sisters who are swimmers with the Morgan Hill Makos youth swim club. The swimmers handed out candy as they sat atop hay bales on a flatbed trailer decorated with red, white and blue streamers and balloons.
Kai and his sister Karrine Leong, 9, have been Makos since they were even younger, and have ridden in the parade before.
“We wanted to celebrate our country’s birthday, and showcase our group,” said the Leongs’ mother, Teresa Leong.
Not all the spectators were from Morgan Hill, and some were not even from the U.S. and relished the opportunity to see how America celebrates its birthday.
Rebecca Guo, 34, came to the Bay Area for the summer from Congtong, China. She has never been to the states, and she attended the parade with a group of children from her city who are spending the summer learning the English language with the Embassy CES camp.
“We were told that today is a special day for America, and we wanted to see it,” Guo said. “We saw lots of things we’ve never seen before.”
Guo said she and the kids she is traveling with have never seen a similar parade with “special cars and good bands” before. She explained that in China the country’s “national birthday” is celebrated with a government-sponsored military demonstration in front of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The group also planned to take in the fireworks in Community Park later on the Fourth, Guo said.
It wasn’t just America’s birthday on July 4. Longtime Morgan Hill resident Phyllis Bellet celebrated her 90th birthday at the historic Votaw House, where Bill Tindall hosts an annual Independence Day party during the parade.
Tindall has leased the 106-year-old home on Main Avenue for three years, and the owner told him a condition of his moving in is that he has to host the annual party, a tradition that started with previous occupants several years ago.
He guessed about 200 people were likely to attend the party throughout the day.
The mayor issued a proclamation for Bellet’s birthday at the Votaw House Wednesday, citing her decades of service to Morgan Hill as a former employee of the city’s public library for 20 years, a founding parent of the Makos Swim club that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, Historical Society member, and as an active member of the senior center and the Morgan Hill United Methodist Church.
Bellet moved to Morgan Hill with her husband in 1947.
“We lived in an apartment above the garage of the then-mayor’s house,” she said as she continued to celebrate her birthday and her country’s birthday at her home following the parade. She celebrated with two of her sons, daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
She said she had “no idea” that the mayor was going to present a proclamation in her honor, and was equally surprised when her grandson and his wife showed up from Oregon to join the party Wednesday morning.
The celebration continues at 4 p.m. with food and live entertainment at the Community Park, which is located between West Edmundson and Cosmo avenues, on the west side of Monterey Road.
At dark, the park will be the site of the annual fireworks display. A firework show is also going off at Gilroy High School tonight at dark.