Sitting at the long conference table in The Examiner office, Les Wight came prepared to talk about the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade he organized in Independence 10 years ago.
Les found it hard to believe on the last day of February that an impending snowstorm and polar onslaught – expected to put the metropolitan area into the deep freeze – could be so threatening this close to St. Patrick’s Day.
The Independence lawyer feared Mother Nature might keep her icy grip on the city and play havoc with the 10th annual Independence St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, March 15.
“We are supposed to get snow this weekend (March 1-2), and it’s only two weeks before this parade...,” he says, adding: “I’m thinking that if (the parade) can happen on March 15, it will be a miracle.”
What concerned Les two weeks before the parade is that “I can’t imagine anyone getting too ready for it; our weather is horrible. So we will see.”
Regardless of the weather, the parade will proceed as planned, he says, even if he’s the only participant. Should that happen, the guy parading around historic Independence Square – dressed in a Scottish black watch plaid kilt – will be none other than parade organizer and founder, Les Wight.
After all, says the attorney with the “mixed-up pedigree,” St. Patrick’s Day is “a day to honor St. Patrick, be Irish for a day, let loose a little bit and have a little fun.” And he’s not going to let inclement weather dampen his Irish spirit. He’s raring to celebrate.
For the second consecutive year, parade participants will assemble in the large parking lot of the Jackson County Shrine, 120 1/2 S. Pleasant St., across the street from the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Les hopes parade participants will arrive early and listen to the Irish music of two well-known Independence brothers – cellist Leslie Mengel and violinist Dana Mengel.
“They are excellent and I have heard them play,” he says, noting Leslie is going to put his cello on wheels after the performance and participate in the parade.
The Irish-music concert isn’t the only reason for coming to the parking lot early. There’s also going to be karaoke singing for your enjoyment and Irish trinkets, T-shirts and souvenirs to purchase. In addition, parade participants and the public are invited to attend the Jackson County Shrine’s annual St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage dinner. It will be served throughout the day inside the Shrine building.
But there is more. Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Letcher of Excelsior Springs are returning to the assembly area where Judge Vernon Scoville (who retired in August) married them last year in conjunction with the parade.
Says Les: “They are coming back and will have their not-so-private celebration for their (first) anniversary.”
The parade, which drew approximately 35 entries last year, steps off at precisely 3 p.m. The route goes north on Pleasant to Maple, east to Main, south on Main and west on Lexington to the parking lot, where awards will be presented in the following categories: Best Float, Best Entertainment Group, Largest Parade Group, Best Costume and Best Automotive Entry.
Like the nine previous parades, Les will be at the end inviting bystanders to join the parade as it passes by.
“You can tell the ones who are eager, and I will say, ‘Come on in and join us.’ And usually we have dozens or more that join us.”
Becoming a part of the parade makes people feel more like a participant, he says, thus making this small-town parade unique when compared to the much larger Snake parade in North Kansas City and the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Kansas City.
The concept behind the Independence parade is twofold: paying tribute to St. Patrick and raising funds for the Child Abuse Prevention Association, whose mission is “to prevent and treat all forms of child abuse by creating changes in individuals, families and society that strengthens relationships and promotes healing.”
Parade organizers will be asking merchants, participants and onlookers for cash donations to help CAPA fulfill its mission to prevent and treat child abuse.
Traditionally, this is done by volunteers circulating through the crowd passing out candy and asking recipients to return the favor by throwing in their green bills and change, Les says.
“Our goal is as much as we can get; it is totally weather dependent,” he notes, recalling it was so frigid one year that most onlookers were inside looking out.
If that happens, “We are not going to get much funding.” However, if the weather is good, “We can make thousands and thousands of dollars for CAPA, which will be a nice addition to their budget.”
To register for the parade, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Les at 816-589-4000. Details about the parade can be found on Facebook at Order of Erin ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Order-of-Erin)
For the St. Pat’s parade to continue moving forward, “We just need to build a steady base of people who want to participate in the parade and watch,” says Les, who describes his job as parade organizer “a hoot.”
It’s a miracle that it worked in the first place; it’s a miracle it continues to work. I think it is just one of these things that people do,” he says, explaining the task is “small enough to be fun, small enough not to be exhausted. You know, it’s just about right.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.