Summer festivals are a tradition in many Minnesota communities, and Birchwood Village on the south shore of White Bear Lake is no exception. An early celebration that still continues is the Birchwood Fourth of July Parade. First organized in 1952, the parade is the product of John and Polly Shank, longtime Birchwood residents.
The Shank family moved to Birchwood on July 1, 1951, and realized immediately that there were no planned activities for Independence Day. Drawing on the customs of John’s hometown, they went to work to develop an annual tradition that is a favorite to this day.
The Birchwood Community Club sponsors the parade and festivities each year and processes the more than 100 entries that range from decorated bicycles, homemade floats, scout troops, and costumed individuals and groups. An annual highlight is the community band, which was organized for many years by late resident Louis Hauser. The goal for band members is to wear the “worst” coordinated costume they can find. The group comes together for their sole practice about 30 minutes before the parade and they perform throughout the route.
The parade, led by the scouts, ends at the boulevard along Wildwood Avenue where the crowd sings the Star Spangled Banner, led by the impromptu ensemble. The park area fills with families ready to enjoy activities such as water balloon tosses and relays, and treats like cotton candy and popcorn before the barbeques and fireworks begin for the day.
The festivities are kept local and include residents of Birchwood Village and their guests. Though its founders, John and Polly Shank, have passed away, the tradition spanning more than 65 years shows the true community spirit of this unique village on the shore. Many Birchwood children are now enjoying the festivities with their own children and grandchildren.
- Sara Markoe Hanson is the executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society.