ROCHESTER — Despite the cancellation of the Village of Rochester's official Memorial Day parade, a smaller, modified version of the parade went on. The modified version was not approved by the village.
"A group of us got together and just wanted to honor the tradition of the parade that leads up to the ceremony," said Sarah Coots, general manager at Chances Food & Spirits, 205 W. Main St., in Downtown Rochester. Coots played a role in helping organize the parade, along with Matthew Kaye, Sara Damaschke and others.
"This little town has big pride in our traditions," she said. Coots was not in the parade but sat outside Chances to watch.
Rochester’s is said to be the longest-running Memorial Day parade in Wisconsin. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016. The modified version was only made public via word of mouth, so the number of people in the crowd was down from years past.
The parade started at 1:30 p.m. and lasted about 7 minutes, 30 seconds, making for the shortest parade in its history, Coots said. But she said she still enjoyed it, calling it a "small, tiny, cute" parade.
"I think our locals appreciated it," she said.
Rochester's 154th Memorial Day ceremony went on, as approved by the Village.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was the master of ceremonies for the event held Monday afternoon in Pioneer Park, 101 S. Front St. (Highway W at Highway D).
Abigail Litjens sang several patriotic songs including “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., whose 1st Congressional District includes all of Racine County, also spoke.
Following longstanding tradition, a memorial wreath was dropped into the Fox River during the ceremony. The Rev. Paul Ray of First Congregational Church of Rochester said a prayer to start the ceremony.
“In this time of pandemic and personal distance, we, in heart and mind, come close, close together and unite in grateful remembrance this Memorial Day,” Ray said.
Not everyone at the event observed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation of keeping 6 feet apart.
Village officials said before the event occurred that they would try to limit the event to 10 people. Some yellow caution tape was in place to separate the speakers, and some were seated in chairs or on the ground from the observing audience.
But there were far more than 10 people at the ceremony Monday; people crowded behind the yellow tape.
Vos gave a brief history of Memorial Day: When it was first observed, what date for the annual holiday was chosen and when it was chosen.
Steil reminded the crowd that even though things are different this year, it’s important to still observe Memorial Day as always: by remembering.
“It’s still the day where we reflect and honor our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country,” Steil said. “Memorial Day is a special day in Rochester, Racine County and in Wisconsin.”
He reminded the audience that since the birth of the nation in 1776, Americans have persevered through tough times. This holiday is meant to remember the sacrifice, bravery and patriotism of Americans who lost their lives defending the nation.
“Our service members set forward because of their love for America, their love for their family, their love for their fellow countrymen and their love for the ideas that America stands for,” Steil said. “From the battlefields in Europe to the jungles of Asia, to the sands of the Middle East. We know freedom is not free.”
Vos said the freedoms we have today are possible because of the men and women who gave their all. “For some, that was not direct. They kept up from wounds suffered, poisons ingested and unbelievable acts of heroism. May God bless these heroes in the nation we call the United States of America.”
“Although Memorial Day and Rochester may look a little different than those in the past, it’s still the day where we reflect and honor our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. Memorial Day is a special day in Rochester, Racine County and in Wisconsin.”
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis.