When Mike Schmitt began his tenure as the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Easter Parade Boss, the parade had a plethora of horses, with categories for solo riders and horse groups.
As he readies for this year’s 41st Annual Easter Parade on Saturday, April 15, he has fewer equines, but the marching bands, Girl Scouts, floats and fancy motor vehicles are lining up to mosey along for a mile down to 48th Street from Warner Road north to just shy of Elliot Road.
This year, Schmitt marks his 25th year as parade boss.
Even with the milestone noted by fellow Kiwanians, Schmitt remains humble. Only reluctantly does he recall his incalculable hours of community service to ensure Ahwatukee children and adults are treated to the only parade in town.
Not only does he rise at dawn on parade day, but he and his wife of 49 years, Bonnie, commandeer their kitchen countertops for weeks prior as they lay out index cards with each entry, arranging and rearranging them until they create the perfect lineup.
And that isn’t as easy as it might seem.
“It’s a bit of an art,” he said, describing how they lay out all eight parade categories, from marching band to color guard, floats to antique vehicles and the
one that often brings surprises – “other.”
After stacking the eight types of entries, the Schmitts begin the placement process.
“Some units have to be a little early, like the fire department truck, obviously. But as you can imagine, everyone wants to be first,” said Schmitt. “We try to get the kids and dogs in as soon as possible.”
Then there’s the finessing – where to put a dance group that carries its own music so it won’t interfere with a high school marching band and its parade presentation.
And, yes, there remain considerations about who follows the horses.
Both the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse and the Wells Fargo horse-drawn stagecoach have volunteers with decorated scoopers following, but it’s still not what you want in front of a preschool marching group.
“When I first started, we had a lot more horses. We had two categories – one for single riders, the other for groups,” Schmitt recalled. “That’s one of the changes in the past years.”
After the parade lineup is completed, it’s time for Schmitt to write the scripts that announce each of the upcoming parade units – this year expected to remain around 75.
As in years past, the script is more than a listing of parade numbers and group names. Schmitt strives to add tidbits of information for each of the four route announcers to read to the 5,000 or so spectators lining the parade route.
If a float had a designer, they’re mentioned; if a group has marched in the parade for many years, that’s relayed to the crowd; if a marching band has won awards during the year, those honors are included.
It takes time and research.
The script often runs 20 pages and is solely written by Schmitt, a former U.S. Navy journalist who served in Vietnam, and later was a writer and editor with the St. Norbert College newspaper in De Pere, Wisconsin.
“The script itself always takes me 14 hours,” said Schmitt.
There’s even more time involved as the parade boss makes all the signage that appears on the entries. He does so on his computer, and then takes it to be enlarged and printed.
“You blow it up 140 percent and you’ve got a real nice-size sign,” he smiles proudly.
Technology has helped cut down on hours, but there are still more spent driving to the post office picking up entry forms with checks.
A week before the parade, he goes back to the post office, where he sends welcome letters, staging area maps and their parade number to all entrants.
“When I first started this, it took me 200 hours. I had to type out all the addresses and then mail it all out. Now with the computer, I’m down to about half of that,” he said.
So why donate hundreds of hours every year for the Easter Parade – the only one in Phoenix?
“It’s fun,” shrugged Schmitt. “You like seeing a project come together. I know that sounds corny, but it’s carrying on a tradition. We’re into the third generation of people coming to this parade.”
He’s proud of the elements that make up this tradition, even if his view of it is
“I start the parade, that’s my only thrill. I never see the parade, I’m directing it from the golf course,” said Schmitt, who often wears a straw hat and t-shirt announcing him as parade boss.
And clutched in his hand is his ubiquitous clipboard, “my real symbol of authority.” While adding an officious tone, he confessed he carries it because it holds the parade permit issued by the City of Phoenix.
For Ahwatukee Kiwanis club president Scott Ryan, seeing what it took to obtain that permit annually was an eye-opener.
“The last few years I’ve been able to accompany him to do the permit review with the city, and it’s an education to watch how everything comes together,” said Ryan, a 13-year Ahwatukee resident.
“The sense of ownership and pride that Mike shows in the parade is contagious and is one of the things that made me want to get more involved in the Ahwatukee Kiwanis,” he said, adding:
“Mike has kept the Kiwanis Easter Parade an Ahwatukee tradition through force of will and dedication. The Kiwanis inherited the Easter Parade from the Jaycees, and for a few lean years, Mike was the only thing that kept the parade going. For those years, he covered all the expenses himself and was the primary, read only, sponsor.”
He noted that parade proceeds garnered by the 27-member Ahwatukee Kiwanis go back to helping the community and foster kids.
Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club secretary, Mike Maloney, said watching the parade boss at work on parade day is impressive.
“I’ve seen how his detailed preparation, combined with his years of experience, allows him to manage a complicated event with calm and humor,” said Maloney, an 18-year resident and a six-year club member.
“The parade always starts on time and everything falls into place,” the Realtor said. “Its fun to watch him work.”
Schmitt is quick to refocus attention to others, and this year that includes the four announcers who broadcast at various spots along the parade route.
At the head is Phoenix radio personality Becky Lynn, who for 10 years has announced from the judges’ reviewing stand and is known for her pre-parade invitations to the waiting crowd to join her in the street for the Chicken Dance and Hokey-Pokey.
Other announcers along the route include Moses Sanchez, Linda and Jim Jochim and Tom and Gloria Rosenthal.
As in prior years, the understated Schmitt proclaimed the 41st Annual Easter Parade will be “a very good parade.”
Twice during his interview, he mentioned this year’s grand marshal, saying that the honoree was “very deserving”:
“Pastor Don Schneider was a longtime pastor at Mountain View Lutheran Church and one of the original founders of (Ahwatukee) Kiwanis. He’s been with the community a long time and he certainly deserves to be grand marshal.”
Mountain View Lutheran Church is the only parade participant to have been in all 41 Easter Parades.