Milford loves a parade: Community event set to step off Wednesday night

By Mike Finney
Posted 10/17/21

MILFORD — It has been three long years since marching bands, floats, beauty queens and local dignitaries have stepped out into the autumn air and onto Walnut Street in downtown Milford for the …

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Milford loves a parade: Community event set to step off Wednesday night


MILFORD — It has been three long years since marching bands, floats, beauty queens and local dignitaries have stepped out into the autumn air and onto Walnut Street in downtown Milford for the traditional Milford Community Parade.

The parade, held annually on the third Wednesday in October, was postponed by gale force wind warnings in 2019 and then was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

However, the Milford Community Parade is set to return on Wednesday night at 6:30, much to the delight of Parade Chairperson Charles Gray, the 125 volunteers and workers that it takes to put on the event — and the Milford community itself.

The annual anticipation for the parade proves that this is one of the marquee events that takes place in Milford throughout the year. After all, the event first took place back in 1938.

“By the looks of Walnut Street at 9 a.m. on the morning of the parade, and there are chairs lined up next to the street to hold favorite viewing spots ... I think the parade is a much-anticipated annual event,” Mr. Gray said. “Our sponsor list is quite extensive between businesses and homeowners.

“It is a time hundreds of families get together and spend a few evening hours together as an annual tradition. We have many residents along the route that have their friends over, have dinner and stand on the porch or in front of the house to watch the parade together.”

Mr. Gray said compiling registrations for the 2.3-mile parade were slow at the outset but picked up in pace as the event approached.

“The registrations came in slow at first and mostly because in the spring, not many of us knew where we were headed with restrictions. We have rebounded nicely with a near pre-pandemic entry count,” he said. “We have eight marching bands scheduled to appear – a combination of Delaware and Maryland bands.

“The Milford Academy Band will be our first to appear, and as is tradition in Milford, the last entry is the Milford High Marching Buccaneer Band.”

The parade, which also features civic groups and public service agencies, is themed to highlight an array of sights, sounds and colors through artistic interpretation, creativity, and whimsical characters.

Entries are requested to use, lights and music to portray the parade theme, which this year is themed “It’s a Retro Halloween.”

Mr. Gray added that the parade serves as a time of camaraderie for marching band members.

“With visiting bands in town, Milford High School band members are lined-up at the beginning of the route and cheer on the visiting bands as they begin on the parade route,” said Mr. Gray. “This is only done in Milford. The act of kindness and respect for fellow musicians is something visiting band directors cherish.”

It takes a lot of coordination between city and traffic officials to make an event like a parade through the heart of a city a success.

“We have approximately 125 (workers) annually between volunteers, traffic managers and law enforcement,” Mr. Gray said. “This also includes individuals within the city departments that work the day of and day after for set-up and tear down.
“The parade could not be possible without the partnership of the City of Milford. After two years, working with the city has been refreshing and like we never skipped a year or two.”

Parade a family tradition in Milford

For Mr. Gray, the Milford Community Parade is an extension of his family. He has served as an award designer, a committee person and chairperson of the event over the past 37 years.

He was first attracted to the event because his dad decided to become chairman of the committee.

“The parade began in 1938, and in 1983, the Milford Jaycees organized the parade, at which time, the late Mayor (Joseph “Ronnie”) Rogers asked my dad (Jim) to lead the committee,” said Mr. Gray. “Having served as the State President of the Delaware Jaycees, my dad – as any leader would – said yes. He was and still is my hero, and any chance I had to do something with him, I did.”

Mr. Gray added that there are more than 10 people on the parade committee that are either family members or extended family members that have been involved for more than 20 years in different capacities because of Jim Gray (his dad) and “his passion to provide the residents with a family event that is fun and free to attend.”

The parade committee meets within a month after the parade to discuss the different strengths and weaknesses of the evening. Out of those meetings, the committee believes it has created a fine-tuned entry system, line-up system, disbursement area and crowd control mechanisms.

The band directors enjoy the early season parade because it helps them with preparing for future competitions.

“Our parade committee decided long ago to have the National Band Judges Association come and judge the bands,” Mr. Gray said. “The judges not only provide a score for us to award trophies, they also provide feedback to the band directors about their band’s strengths and weaknesses.

“This incredible insight provides band directors the opportunity to share with their musicians an independent review. This review is from the same judges’ organization they will perform in front of for ‘Tournament of Bands’ and other competitions. Most band directors ask about the review sheets instead of, ‘Where can I get my trophy?’”

The cost of putting on a show

It does cost money to put on the Milford Community Parade and the parade committee said its community, along with surrounding communities and local businesses fully fund the event.

It has sponsors that provide in-kind services, and residents that send in contributions or participate in fundraisers for the parade. This year, the committee held its’ third annual quarter auction and had more than 90 people in attendance with more than 100 items contributed by local businesses.

In the end, once the first whistle is blown and the first marching band steps off into the streets before the awaiting crowd makes it all worth it.

“For the committee, (it’s about) seeing the families lined on the street, enjoying each other, and the groups and businesses that committed time and resources to be a part of this community event,” Mr. Gray said. “For the spectator, (it is) the marching bands, the most you will find participate in most DelMarVa parades. They also look for unique entries they have not seen before.”

After a nearly three-year absence, members of the Milford Community Parade are certain this year’s event will have something for everybody — the No. 1 thing being family fun.