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Side of Ranch

Will you take a stroll to honor veterans in Tribute to Heroes Parade?

The annual Lakewood Ranch parade to honor veterans and first responders is seeking participants.

The VFW Braden River Post 12055 marches in the 2022 Tribute to Heroes Parade.
The VFW Braden River Post 12055 marches in the 2022 Tribute to Heroes Parade.
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It's the Tribute to Heroes Parade that expects to roll down Lakewood Main Street each year around the Memorial Day holiday.

That tribute, however, is wide-ranging, and not meant to simply be a somber salute to those who have died defending our freedoms.

This year the parade will be held May 28, and once again will honor those who died in battle, our current and former soldiers, and our first responders. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with the parade at 7 p.m.

Lakewood Ranch Community Activities is hoping those who live in the area will give the event a collective hug as the parade committee works to keep the annual in annual event.

Last year the parade was held for the first time since 2019 as the previous two were cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. When noting that the 2018 Tribute to Heroes Parade was cancelled by rain, that meant two parades in the last five years entering 2023.

The disjointed schedule had to hurt last year's parade, which marched in front of a much smaller crowd than the thousands who would pack Main Street at Lakewood Ranch in previous years.

This year, the assignment of packing Main Street goes to Aliye Presley and Joanna Bailey of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities. The duo has brought an energy that figures to translate into a dynamic event.

However, in organizing such an event for the masses, there is a bit of walking on eggshells they must do as absolutely no one wants to diminish a tribute to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

"It's a tribute, fallen or living," said Bailey, who is the director of events and partnerships for Lakewood Ranch Community Activities. "And we honor firemen and police."

For myself, whose father was a U.S. Marine, it makes me proud to know our community wants to assure this parade continues to honor all veterans and our first responders.

The jobs are mostly out-of-sight, out-of-mind for most of us who have our own lives and families to demand our interest. I think it is important to set aside times to thank those who protect our freedoms, along with those that put their lives on the line in emergency situations here at home.

It just can't be overstated.

At the same time, this is a national holiday and a time to be enjoyed by all. Sure, this parade needs to have its respectful moments, but if Presley and Bailey can line up a group of clowns playing Kazoos, I say "bring them on!"

Think about going to a ballgame where they have a moment of silence on Memorial Day. We're talking less than a minute. A good part of this parade concentrates on the "tribute" in the title. Take that minute and multiply it by 50.

On the other hand, we need to attract young people, who need to be exposed to veterans, and hopefully, their stories. If it takes a petting zoo and a mechanical bull to get everyone together, so be it.

What can you do to help?


If you are veteran, register to walk in the parade, or ride if you can't walk. It doesn't matter if you are a general or a buck private. If you served, you are welcome. You've earned your spot.

You are going to be honored, entertained and fed. But if you don't register, you might not have a spot.

You can go to to register or find out more information by emailing [email protected]

If you are part of a group, Lakewood Ranch Community Activities is hoping to get 100 entries into this year's parade

"It doesn't matter if you are for-profit, nonprofit, a community group, a school group, a sports team, an animal rescue, or a musical group," said Presley, who handles marketing for Lakewood Ranch Community Activities.

Get the group together and sign up. Besides honoring the soldiers and first responders, you can get your particular group important exposure.

Does someone you know have a flatbed? Decorate it for a float. It's not too late.

Because the parade happens after school is out for the summer, the parade has lacked school participation at times. Are you a parent of a 16-year-old drummer in the marching band? How about getting him or her and 10 of their bandmates to be part of the parade in a drumline. The veterans would love it.

Nothing says parade like the steady beat of a drum.

Presley and Bailey have been reaching out to colleges and universities to see if they have music students who would like to perform. They admit it has been tough sledding.

The Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble has signed up to perform before the parade for the second consecutive year. The parade committee is working with Gold Coast Eagle Distributing to get a stage set up next to the VIP veterans seating (in front of McGrath's Irish Ale House) for the ensemble.

Please note that when money is being raised for nonprofits in Lakewood Ranch, Gold Coast Eagle Distributing is involved.

Besides the ensemble, Aloha Ukulele has signed up to play as well.

The speaker system all along Lakewood Main Street has been improved, so those all along the parade route will be able to hear announcements and music much better than a year ago.

Proceeds from this event benefit The Del Webb Association of Veterans and Military Supporters and VFW Braden River Post 12055. 

Tommy's Express Car Wash is the event's main sponsor and Bob Boast Volkswagen is the VIP seating and stage sponsor. East Manatee Fire Rescue will lead the parade with one of its trucks while Manatee County's EMS will also have a vehicle in the parade. The Crewe of Hernando DeSoto is bringing its pirate ship.

The Lion Rampant bagpipers will provide music.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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