Holiday cheer for generations of Milwaukee families ends due to lack of financial support
The organizer of downtown’s Milwaukee Holiday Parade, the Holiday Parade Foundation of Milwaukee, announced on August 29 that the 2017 parade was its last.
The DeGrace family has organized the free annual event for 66 years and has retired, bringing a halt to the annual parade for 2018.
The Milwaukee Holiday Parade has been an annual holiday staple in Milwaukee for the past 92 years. Originally started by the now-defunct Shuster’s Department Store as a kick-off to the holiday shopping season, the parade continued since 1953 under the leadership of three generations of the DeGrace family.
“The parade has been a part of my family since my father took it over in 1953, and the decision to retire both our work and the parade was extremely difficult for me and my family. We did not make this choice lightly,” says parade producer, Suzanne DeGrace Spaeth. “The massive community support and our many-thousands of rain-or-shine attendees are the reasons we’ve continued the parade for all of these years.”
The DeGrace siblings, who have organized the parade for decades with the help and support of about 50 longtime volunteers, said decreased financial support, vendor changes, downtown construction, and route logistics have culminated into the “perfect storm,” and maintaining the parade at the level its legacy deserves is no longer feasible.
Boston Store, which filed bankruptcy and closed its stores this year, was one of 2017’s major sponsors. Parade organizers did not receive the necessary funds for the 2018 parade, after already struggling with declining support.
Fundraising goals in recent years have been $150,000 annually, which is the minimum required to launch the parade in its longstanding format, that includes a live-television event featuring over 100 units of marching bands, giant helium balloons, floats, local personalities, live animals, costumed characters, and specialty vehicles. Construction and development throughout downtown Milwaukee along both the parade route and staging areas also increase logistical difficulties.
“Maintaining our dad’s legacy has been the focus since his passing in 1995,” DeGrace Spaeth said. “We have been able to do that for so many years, but now, as we’re getting older, as the landscape changes, and as financial support grows more difficult, we simply can’t operate the parade in its current form, which is the standard and legacy we’ve worked to uphold.”
Parade organizers say they would love to see another group and holiday parade take shape in Milwaukee, but unfortunately, the time for their involvement has come to end.
“This decision is both heartbreaking and bittersweet for my family,” DeGrace Spaeth said. “The parade has gone on for 65 years longer than anyone thought it would, and I’m so proud of all of our generous sponsors and dedicated volunteers that have made the parade possible.”
From its start in 1927, the Milwaukee Holiday Parade has been an anticipated and cherished Milwaukee tradition for many in southeastern Wisconsin. Parade attendance in recent years has been as estimated as high as 100,000 people.
The Milwaukee Holiday Parade has traditionally been held on the Saturday morning prior to Thanksgiving Day. The scheduled date was postponed only once in the history of the parade, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963.