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Former Appleton Downtown Christmas Parade organizers reflect on the event’s past

Local News

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) — For Greg Otis, parades were once a way of life.

“We’re constantly in parade mode,” he told Local 5.

Otis served as Chair of the Christmas Parade for 35 years, along with several other parades in the city.

“I did three parades,” Otis remembers. “Once I did four parades here in Appleton, but the Christmas Parade was just one of the best.”

The parade was started in 1970 by area business owners.

“There were some merchants on the avenue that we’re going to use that Tuesday before Thanksgiving as a kickoff for the holiday buying season,” Otis recalled.

It had small beginnings, but over the years the parade grew.

“We were then determined to become the largest nighttime Christmas parade in all of the upper Midwest,” Don Burich, a former Parade Committee member said.

The parade’s growth at times surpassed what the one-mile route could handle.

“One year I had over 150 applications,” Otis said of organizations and businesses hoping to participate, “and that was a tough year because you can’t have that many.”

The parade may only span about a mile down College Avenue, but that didn’t limit community involvement.

“Lots of people get involved, lots of volunteers, the community embraced it and it really became a generational event,” Burich said.

The generational event that will have to take a pause on what would have been its 50th year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a tough decision,” Otis said, “but ultimately the right decision. You just can’t have it.”

In a normal year, crowds would gather along College Avenue to watch the holiday specticle.

“Estimates have been as high as 60,000 to 80,000 people in that mile,” Otis said. “I mean it’s from curb to store front, all the way through.”

Instead of that crowd gathering downtown in 2020, a series of mini parades will traverse Appleton.

“And you can be totally safe and wave from your front window or in your front yard, not in big groups,” Otis said.

The parades will be much smaller, but the MVP will still be along for the ride.\

“Santa coming down College Avenue every year really lights up all of the eyes of the kids,” Burich said.

“I just wish everybody, at one time or another, could’ve walked down the avenue with me alongside that float,” Otis added. “It’s so amazing, the kids are so excited.”

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