Unique to Lansing
by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (April 28, 2018) – It’s exciting when your hometown has something that you don’t find in other places. That’s what Lansing’s Good Neighbor Day Parade is. The day was designated as a special event decades ago to promote local businesses, encourage gathering with others in the community, and celebrate good neighbors—and it was all accomplished with a hometown parade.
A Parade Like No Other
Other communities in the region, the Midwest, and across the country hold parades in celebration of Independence Day and Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some have evening parades with floats covered in lights, or parades to celebrate Santa Claus or Thanksgiving.
But there’s only one Good Neighbor Day Parade. It’s always the first Saturday in May.
Origins of the Lansing Parade
The parade was originally called the Lansing Spring Parade. In 1967 as the annual Memorial Day Parade approached, it was during a somber time in the country and in the community. Two young men from Lansing had died a month before while serving in Vietnam. The April 27, 1967, issue of the Lansing Journal included an announcement about the parade, stating, “Memorial Day, is, of course, a day of remembrance, and therefore celebrating or commercialization are not necessarily desirable…There are no stringent rules to follow except to play up patriotism and play down commercialism and assemble at 9 a.m.”
The following year, officials at the Chamber of Commerce, worried about business declining due to the new River Oaks Mall in Calumet City, looked for a way to showcase businesses without commercializing Memorial Day. They planned the Lansing Spring Parade, which took place in May 1968.
In 1970, Good Neighbor Day was introduced, and the parade name was changed to the Good Neighbor Day Parade. Jackie Protsman, owner of the Fashionette and former Chamber of Commerce president, remembers when residents voted for “Mr. and Mrs. Lansing,” and the winner led the parade. She also remembers that following the early parades there was always a lively gathering at Itchy Lange’s restaurant and tavern.
In 1971 a three-day Good Neighbor Week sale began, and in 1972 a “Friendliest Merchant” contest was added.
According to an April 25, 1968, article in the Lansing Journal, Jim Klebs was chairman of the first parade. “12 floats and about 40 units will highlight the parade, giving everyone an opportunity to view the many fine services, products and shopping areas available in the village,” it read. “Marching bands, motorcycle corps, Shriners, drum and bugle corps, the Meister Brau Beer Wagon, fire equipment and a host of floats will be featured.”
Memories of Marching
Lansing Historical Society curator Barb Dust believes the idea for Good Neighbor Day stems back to the 1954 Centennial celebration. During the week-long festivities, Good Neighbor Day was held on August 18, and residents were encouraged to “enjoy good fellowship with neighbors—invite neighbors for lunch at home or at Lan-Oak Park,” as stated in a promotional schedule.
Dust recalls marching in many parades as a Girl Scout leader when her three daughters were younger. She later watched her daughters participate with marching band. “One year I marched with my Brownie troop—and it snowed!” she said. “But we did it, and we marched, and I think we all got sick afterwards.”
Dust noted that the parade originally ran in the opposite direction, starting on Torrence Avenue and heading south and then east on Ridge Road, and ending in downtown Lansing.
51 Years Later
Over the years, the parade has grown, and this year Chamber President Amy Todd said that roughly 100 entries are expected. “We do have a lot of new people in the parade that we haven’t had before, so that’s good to see,” she said. “For our theme, we are celebrating Lansing with the 125th anniversary of the incorporation. Some are planning to decorate for the decade that their business or school opened or came into existence.”
Protsman, who was once a hospital clown who would visit with sick children, hires her clown friends to participate in the parade with the Fashionette float. “They were always the first ones in the parade after all the dignitaries and fire engines,” she said. “The length of the parade keeps increasing and it’s wonderful to know that so many people would like to be in it.”
In recent years, Todd said parade entries had moved away from floats and more toward decorated cars. Last year, however, there was in increase in the number of floats. “We are hoping to see more of that again this year,” she said.
“People really look forward to the parade,” she said. “People are looking for the theme of next year’s parade in the fall so they have time to think about decorating.”
For more information, contact the Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce at 708-474-4170.
Photo credits: Parade photos from 2017 were taken by Carrie Steinweg. All other parade photos were provided by the Lansing Historical Society and used with permission.