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Tribute to Heroes parade to return to Lakewood Ranch

After a two-year layoff due to the pandemic, more than 75 groups are expected to march in the parade at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

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East County's Gill Ruderman, a retired Army colonel, remembers the enthusiasm generated by the crowd at the last Tribute to Heroes parade in Lakewood Ranch. 

Girl Scouts were walking with flags, children were riding their decorated bikes and veterans were riding in cars being recognized for their service. 

“It’s just a feeling that their appreciation is sincere, and when we’re waving back, we’re being just as sincere,” said Ruderman, who is a trustee of VFW Post 12055. 

That was three years ago. 

Lakewood Ranch Community Activities hasn’t been able to have the Tribute to Heroes Parade since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year, the parade is back, and Ruderman and other members of the VFW can’t wait. 

“We can honor not only the past veterans but today’s veterans as well,” said Central Park’s Chuck Slenker, a service officer for the VFW. “If you were in Vietnam, no one ever cared what happened over there with you, and now, this is a tribute to those people and to all the veterans.”

Aliye Presley, the communications coordinator and executive assistant for Lakewood Ranch Community Activities, said the parade will look similar to past parades. 

“I am so excited to be bringing it back,” Presley said. “This is my first time being involved in the parade, and I can tell how anxious everyone is to get back to it and to honor veterans. It’s cool to be able to give this back to the community.”

Presley said Lakewood Ranch Community Activities is expecting between 75 and 100 groups to participate in the parade with 1,000 to 2,000 people as spectators. 

“Lakewood Ranch is full of events and things to do, but this is so unique from all of that,” Presley said. “This is the biggest thing we do, and it’s so important to recognize these people who have put so much on the line for us.”

The Tribute to Heroes block party and parade will include a parade down Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, a DJ, bike decorating contest and food trucks.

Members of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble will kick off the parade with a performance. 

Organizations will gather at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center before making their way down Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

“(Main Street at Lakewood Ranch) is sort of the heart of Lakewood Ranch, and it’s the perfect location for (the parade),” Presley said. 

The VFW will be the first organization marching in the parade with its banner out front and veterans walking on foot behind it. Then the VFW will have about 11 members driving in Corvettes with the veterans’ names on a sign on the windshield to receive recognition. 

“It’s just good to be appreciated more than anything else,” Ruderman said. “Sometimes people say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and I think they say it because everybody else does it, but this is an overt act on the public to recognize veterans and say, ‘Thank you.’”

The Del Webb Association of Veterans and Military Supporters will follow the VFW down the parade route. 

Both organizations will have a color guard march in the parade. 

Rich Greenberg, the president of the Del Webb association, said the organization is excited to once again receive a donation from Lakewood Ranch Community Activities that will help with the organization’s mission of donating to at least five charities that support veterans and their families in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

“It’s a win-win all the way around,” Greenberg said. “We get to honor our veteran residents and then at the same time, we get to benefit from the revenue that’s donated so we can continue to support veterans.”

Greenberg said most of the older veterans now served in the Vietnam War and weren’t supported during their time of service, but now they get to be honored.

“Most of us have pretty much put the bad feelings behind us,” he said. “I, in particular, feel that it took the wars in the Middle East over the last few years to help the non-military community understand there’s a difference between the war and the warrior. It’s like the bumper sticker, ‘You can hate the war, but you have to love the warrior.’”


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