By Laura Holt*
GAY, MICH. -- Crowds flocked to Gay’s streets for its 29th annual Fourth of July parade. This impromptu parade celebrates our nation’s birthday with a colorful presentation of floats and gaily-outfitted participants for its spectators.
A large crowd shows up in Gay, Mich., (whose year-round population is less than 100 full-time residents) for the "Gay Parade" on July 4, 2010. (Photo © 2010 and courtesy Laura Holt)
The "Gay Parade," as it is commonly known, is popular because of its varied themes and spontaneous contributors. This year’s parade included fire trucks and police cars like typical parades. But it also included unique participants like Gumby on a tractor, two community members in a "Yooper Hot Tub," the Bennetts family in swine flu costumes and even a zombie march. This spontaneity is brought on by the Gay Parade’s spur-of-the-moment style.
"There is no planned theme to the parade," said Alice Gerhardt, a regular parade participant, "but the Bennetts [family] spend all year planning it."
Gerhardt, while not a full-time community member, has a vacation home in Gay and is related to the woman who is believed to have founded the parade.
There are two conflicting stories that circulate among the family, explained Gerhardt. The most popular story involves Karra Bennetts, who lived in Ahmeek at the time. The 9-year-old Bennetts supposedly started the annual parade while visiting her grandmother in Gay. Bennetts wanted to return home to ride her bike in Ahmeek’s Fourth of July parade. Bennetts’ grandmother did not want to drive her back, so she promised Bennetts she could have a Fourth of July parade in Gay. The grandmother promptly forgot the promise, but Bennetts did not.
On the morning of the Fourth, Karra’s grandmother discovered Bennetts decorating her bike with colorful streamers. The grandmother suddenly remembered the promise she had made to Bennetts and decided to participate in her granddaughter’s parade. The two, along with five other relatives, walked around the town while friends and neighbors stared from their windows in bewilderment.
"The parade was the talk of the town and everyone enjoyed it," said Gerhardt, "so the family decided to have the Fourth of July parade again the next year." That following year, Bennetts’ grandmother walked from house to house around the town personally inviting Gay’s community members to either join in or watch the parade.
Since its beginning, the Gay Parade has attracted many attendees and participants, as everyone is allowed to participate, said parade supporters.
"It’s not a traditional parade," said Dudley Martin, Sherman Township supervisor, when interviewed the two days before the parade. "People just get together and do it."
Martin helps the Gay Fire Department run their annual concession sales and raffles that take place after the parade. Festivities like these are important to the community, he said. Besides providing gifts and food to the visitors who come to watch the parade, they also raise money used to fund Gay’s entirely volunteer fire department.
In addition to the activities above, the traditional fish toss competition hooks community members and visitors alike. This purely entertaining event, sponsored by the community’s bar, aptly named The Gay Bar and Grill, has younger participants competing by age group and older participants competing by gender to see who can toss a fish the farthest.
"I’ve never seen so many people happy about getting a fish in the face," said Kyle Long, a Michigan Tech student and first time parade visitor. "People get nailed in the head with a fish, and everyone cheers about it."
*Guest reporter Laura Holt is a student in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech University.