Ted Shaw calls it a “remarkable accomplishment,” looking back 38 years ago when South Pasadena’s first 4th of July parade began.
Shaw, the town’s mayor at the time, will tell you it was a miracle it even happened. The first parade down Mission Street was put together in about 30 days.
“Everybody said it wouldn’t work because so many people would be out of town,” said Shaw, one of the key movers and shakers in helping get the first event off the ground in 1982. “But it went off very, very well and the community poured out to support it. We’re so proud that the Fourth of July Parade has become the biggest celebration in town ever since.”
In those early years it was known as the “Fourth of July Celebration,” recalled Shaw, later becoming the “Extravaganza of Balloons,” before evolving into today’s “Festival of Balloons. “It’s the single largest attraction in our city, but if you would have asked me 38 years ago if we were going to pull it off, I would have told you we had major doubts.”
Shaw and his wife Joan, who was also highly instrumental in making the first parade a reality, still hold at-large positions on the 4th of July committee, but seldom attend monthly meetings, leaving the organizing effort up to others these days. A committee of 12 spearheaded the initial parade and made sure it happened annually with more and more support coming along over the years.
Shaw networked through friends and came up with enough band members to play in the first parade, thus it became forever known as “the Minutemen Band,” he said, noting that most of the performers today are from South Pasadena High School’s music department.
“It’s homegrown and just downhome fun,” said Shaw. “Originally, just like it is today, it has always been about the kids with the scout troops and Little League teams marching. It just shows what we’re all about – small town, and people love it.”
For years, among his many duties, Shaw announced the parade for the city’s cable access channel alongside Lin Vlacich, but last year he and Joan watched it from the sidelines with thousands of other spectators who come out to enjoy it each year.
“It was a strange,” said Shaw, laughing. “I didn’t know anyone out there.”
This year’s parade theme “To the Moon and Beyond – 50 Years of Exploring America’s Freedom,” marks the country’s first landing on the moon on July 20, 1969.
“We came up with that theme based on this year being the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the Moon Landing,” explained Joe Payne, the committee’s chair for the parade portion of the day. “Since we have been to the moon, we have continued to explore space, sending more probes to the moon and other planets. The desire to explore space is closely tied to the freedom the United States enjoys. So, we think we have a great theme this year.”
South Pasadena celebrates the Fourth of July with a full day of activities, starting with the annual Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast at the fire station at 7 a.m., followed by the parade opening ceremonies outside the South Pasadena Community Room at 10:30 a.m., the parade down Mission Street at 11 a.m., games and festivities in Garfield Park and the fireworks show at South Pasadena High when the sun goes down.
“We’re unique in Southern California because there are a lot of cities that don’t have a hometown parade like ours,” said Shaw, grateful that the Festival of Balloons is carried on after all these years.
“Quite frankly,” he continued, “we wouldn’t have a parade if it wasn’t for some very dedicated people who work extremely hard throughout the year. The volunteer committee members really do make it happen. ”
Putting the Festival of Balloon together is a core group of volunteers, which meets monthly on the last Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. inside the South Pasadena
Fire Department’s Emergency Operation Center. About 100 others lend a hand, helping in a variety of tasks on the 4th of July. Interested community members are encouraged to attend a future planning meeting.
“It’s a well-oiled machine, but we’re always looking for help,” said Rosemary Whitney, Festival of Balloons’ chair of the committee. “Everyone knows and does their job so well. It all comes together for a great day in our city.”