Editor’s note: With Wichita’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade returning for the first time since the pandemic, writer and sometime participant Pat O’Connor looks back at the history of the event.
Wichita’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in 1965. Sponsored by KLEO Radio, the preeminent teen station, the parade started at Lawrence Stadium, went east on “Dublin” Avenue (renamed from Douglas), to Main, then one block south to the old police station. In later years, a green stripe was added to the middle of the street on the 17th. I recall going to that one or the one in 1966, talking my way out of classes at West High for the privilege.
Years later, I played in the parade in the Green Bog Boys, a duo founded in 1983 with Kelly Werts. The KLEO sponsorship ended in 1972. KAKE had another go at it in 1976. The route was changed to Main Street from Elm to Lewis in 1986. The KAKE sponsorship ended in 2003.
The parade had a lot of people working hard the few weeks or nights beforehand on floats. Kirby’s Beer Store 3-D Marching Band could be counted on to participate, under the direction of Randall Parker, who furnished some of the odd assortment of band uniforms. The Corry Academy of Irish Dance staged performed. The Wichita Irish Club, founded by Mason Wolf in 1989, was often among the entrants. This group’s membership grew to over a hundred in the 1990s with two components: Irish music and Irish dance. After Mason left Wichita, the Club withered amid factional strife. Isn’t that Irish?
Before that happened, Wichita Irish (renamed Celtic Circle) put on two Irish Festivals at the National Guard Armory on West Douglas in 1993 and ‘94. Maybe you were there? The club also took part in the construction of a curragh (a light Irish boat) at the Wichita Boathouse in 1997.
Nancy Lawrence of the Delano Business Association spearheaded the parade’s next incarnation, in 2007. “The first year, somebody said, ‘We should put on a parade for St. Patrick’s Day. We needed a poster.’ And, you know, with being the person in charge of it, you would think that I would be able to (say) yes or no to the poster design. Somebody came up with a poster, and it was ugly. It had Dorothy on it and shoes. They got their nose out of joint over the fact that I didn’t like that poster. I said, ‘OK, we’ll just go with it.’ And then they’re going to charge people for these posters. They knew nothing about marketing. You don’t charge people for posters.
“So I made my own poster, got them in the stores, and started working on getting this parade to be a good thing. And I literally did it with me and one other person. We put that on, no help from any businesses down there at all. Nothing but controversy, backbiting. People didn’t want this, and people didn’t like that. I don’t like this person—it was ugly. And I decided that I was going to make this a good thing for the whole area. The day came and it was a great success. There were about 8,000 people.
“It was a beautiful day. We had about 50 entries. After a couple days, when I was just not as worn out—because that was a lot of work—I thought, I’m done with them. I don’t like having to ask every time I want to do something. So, I had been toying with the idea of getting myself out of the Delano Business Association because of all that. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to do it for the public. Anybody can join. But I’m not going to take a backseat to anybody. My motto was, help or get the hell out of my way.”
In 2020 and 2021 the was canceled because of the pandemic. In 2022, things looked good for its return—tbu hen came the dictum from the city again canceling the parade the day before.
“It was very depressing, Lawrence said. “That was one of my roughest days. We had 135 entrants. More than we’ve ever had. I had people asking me, the night before we canceled, if they could be in the parade.”
This year, Xclusive Events, owned by Crystal McDonald and Cody Lathrop, have taken up the green gauntlet and are sponsoring Delano’s Parade. It’s being held Saturday March 11, noon to whenever the last entrant comes across the finish line.
“We love the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Delano,” Danny Knackstedt of Xclusive said. “This is why we jumped in to help the Delano district and businesses save the parade.”
Contact Pat O’Connor at email@example.com.