Peppering the parade with patriotism

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Jake Magee
Monday, September 1, 2014

JANESVILLE--The city's popular Labor Day parade has been around for half a century, but it wasn't until last year that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed during the downtown event, parade coordinator Jeanna Maasz said.

Maasz has been volunteering at the parade for more than a decade. This is her third year as coordinator. She felt compelled to add the national anthem to the parade.

“With everything that's gone on in our country, our soldiers … deserve to be recognized. And our country deserves to be recognized, no matter what your political views are,” she said. “It just didn't sit right with me that we didn't have that.”

Last year, Maasz, whose father is a Vietnam veteran, approached her friend and fellow “military brat” Melissa Defebaugh and asked her to sing the national anthem for the parade. The Fort Atkinson woman was happy to lend her talents.

Defebaugh's natural vocal skills and attachment to the military made her the perfect choice.

Veteran organizations named Defebaugh's father, retired Lt. Col. Scott L. Defebaugh, Veteran of the Year in Milwaukee County in 1992 for his “community involvement, service to fellow veterans and loyalty to family,” according to the plaque he received. Scott often asked his daughter to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at various functions and parades when he was being recognized for his contributions to his country.

“I was very happy to do that for him,” she said.

The daughter of a professional opera singer, Defebaugh has been a vocalist her whole life. She even has her own 16-piece swing band called Swingin' Company B in honor of her parents, who met in the United Service Organizations in the 1950s. Defebaugh's ties to the military made her proud to perform the national anthem.

“It's very near and dear to my heart. I was raised in a patriotic home,” Defebaugh said.

Defebaugh performed the song three times last year: at the beginning, middle and end. Volunteers shuttled her in a golf cart to different stations to sing along the parade route, she said.

With two extra volunteers this Labor Day, such complications became unnecessary.

Shawn Sharp and Tina Stuckey lent their talents this year. After Sharp sang at the beginning of the parade, Stuckey performed at the Milwaukee Street bridge, and Defebaugh sang in front of the senior center on Main Street.

Spectators loved the tall stilt walkers, the New Glarus Ladder Co.—which had members run straight up a tall ladder as people below held it in place—and the various dance and martial arts studios that displayed their talents.

Still, the parade halted before the singing of the national anthem, and volunteers, participants and spectators alike stopped, saluted and stood at attention each time. Police officers even exited their cars to face the American flag for the song.

Stuckey said she remembers weeping when Maasz asked her to sing the patriotic song for the parade.

“That's the one thing where most people are going to pause and be respectful as one without pointing fingers," the Beloit woman said.

Stuckey insisted she's not famous, but she's sung for Beloit Snappers and Janesville Jets games before.

Sharp, a Janesville resident, is a part-time Elvis impersonator who performs at birthday parties, anniversaries, casinos and other venues. Singing “the ultimate song there is for America” in a parade was new for him, he said.

Defebaugh said she didn't get anxious before performing.

“For me, there's nothing to be nervous about when I'm singing that song because I'm passionate about it.”

That passion showed. She sang the national anthem with tears in her eyes and saluted the Patriotic Society as its members passed.

“… All of this is just very emotional and a wonderful experience,” Defebaugh said after her performance. “I feel this is such an honor to be asked to do this.”

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