Early every December, a dedicated group of volunteers and Chamber staff gather to start planning for an event months away: the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. When that group met in late 2020, the decision was made to cancel the 2021 parade due to community health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus.
The annual parade is organized by the St. Patrick's Day Extravaganza Committee, an independent group that is strongly supported by the Chamber staff. Despite not having a parade for two years in row, the committee is undaunted and planning still goes on with confidence that the parade will return in 2022, continuing a tradition that began in 1980.
The parade was informally organized by the late Sylvia Henkin, with meetings held in her kitchen. She stepped down as committee chair in 2013 after serving as parade grand marshal for the second time. Her successor is Shawn Cleary, president of Tiger Corporation, which makes industrial mowing equipment, an Irishman who proudly wears his green stripes and also serves as the president of the Sioux Falls Irish Club.
"It was with great angst that we made the decision to cancel the St. Patrick's Day parade for 2021," Cleary said. "While it is a challenge to bridle the Irish spirit, we have the utmost respect for the advice of city officials and health care professionals to continue to be prudent in the midst of the COVID pandemic. We encourage all Sioux Falls residents to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in a safe and healthy way!"
The 24-member planning committee, in addition to Chamber staff, represents a wide range of backgrounds that contribute to coordinating the complex details of pulling off a parade that attended by thousands and includes hundreds of parade participants. There are volunteers from businesses, representatives of the police department, the City, Downtown Sioux Falls and others.
The St. Patrick's Day parade remains an event that brings the community together to celebrate – just as Sylvia envisioned. It is called the people's parade because anyone can participate, as long as they are wearing an official St. Patrick's parade button.
The Extravaganza Committee also selects the parade grand marshal to lead the parade. There have been 39 of them since 1980, many with an Irish heritage. The first was lawyer Claude Hamilton and his wife. Even though the parade was not held last year, there was a grand marshal, Bill Baker of The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.
An enduring part of the parade has been the Khartum Temple Pipe & Drums from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They expect to return next year and their expenses have traditionally been covered by donations from Avera Health, Sanford Health and Xcel Energy.
Even without a parade, there will be a couple indications of the Irish spirit around Sioux Falls on St. Patrick's Day. Both the falls of the Big Sioux River and the downtown Arc of Dreams sculpture over the river will be lighted green again.