Local job losses can’t dampen excitement of Labor Day parade
WCLO's Stan Stricker reports on large and reflective crowd at Janesville's Labor Day Parade
Photos from 2009 LaborFest and the 19th annual LaborFest Labor Day Parade.
JANESVILLE Bert Brookens is going to hate this sentence.
That's because it's the first line in an article about Janesville's Labor Day Parade, and Brookens didn't want to be the center of attention.
He certainly wasn't the main attraction along the parade route. That was reserved for horses, dancers, musicians, clowns and marching bands that brought smiles to thousands on Monday.
Brookens is one of the volunteers who aren't noticed but who make the parade magic happen.
Job losses over the past year put a dent in the corps of volunteers who put on the three-day LaborFest and the parade. But others stepped up to pound out the dents and carry on, Brookens said.
Brookens should know, being president of the LaborFest committee. He's also one of those who might have stepped down this year after being transferred to a GM plant in another state. But he didn't.
After 23 years on the production line in Janesville, Brookens wanted to work through to retirement or a buyout. That meant leaving his wife and one child still at home in Edgerton if GM offered him work elsewhere.
The letter arrived in mid-July. It told him he had about two weeks before he had to report for work in the paint shop at GM's Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan.
With LaborFest just weeks away, Brookens didn't want to leave his fellow volunteers in the lurch. So he reported for work but took vacation to come back for LaborFest. His wife, Brenda, helped out while he was away.
Brookens and other helpers worked from early morning to late at night Saturday and Sunday. He looked worse for the wear but still managed a smile Monday. He said he hasn't had a relaxing Labor Day with his family for 18 years, but on Monday he took a few minutes to watch the parade with them, something he had never done before.
It all began in LaborFest's first year, 1991. Brookens, a mud volleyball player, approached fellow GM worker Mike Sheridan. Sheridan, now speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, was running the volleyball tournament.
"I said I had some suggestions, and he said 'next year, you can run it,'" Brookens recalled.
So he did.
"And here I am, 18 years later," Brookens said with a rueful grin.
"It's starting!" squealed a small child as a police car's siren signaled the start of the 19th annual parade and the first of the 116 units rolled down West Milwaukee Street.
Kids were most excited by the sweets distributed by business, churches, politicians and others. Someone had distributed little American flags to the kids.
"If you wave 'em, they'll give you candy," said Kiara McAdory, 8.
Kiara and hundreds of other children were not disappointed.
"Boy, these kids are cleaning up. It's like Halloween," one parent remarked.
No healthful snacks were noted, but those reusable shopping bags from the Basics store will come in handy. The Basics float featured one of the most remarked-on elements of the parade, a "bag monster," consisting of someone wearing about 500 plastic shopping bags.
"Don't feed the bag monster," a sign on the float exhorted the crowd.
Brookens figured 30,000 to 50,000 people lined the parade route, similar to previous years.
As usual, some of the horses needed to plop along the parade route.
Brookens was right there, scooping the poop.