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Side of Ranch

It's a steady march toward another parade in Lakewood Ranch

Gill Ruderman, of Braden River VFW Post 12055, enjoys his ride as the 2023 Tribute to Heroes Parade grand marshal.
Gill Ruderman, of Braden River VFW Post 12055, enjoys his ride as the 2023 Tribute to Heroes Parade grand marshal.
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Retired U.S. Army Col. Gill Ruderman understands the annual Tribute to Heroes Parade in Lakewood Ranch has a dual purpose.

He said his fellow veterans are grateful that those who attend can salute the veterans and first responders who put their lives on the line to serve their country.

"The veterans look forward to it," Ruderman said of the parade. "Some haven't been honored or respected, yet. So it's important."

On the other hand, for the parade to function and be successful, it also has to provide activities and entertainment that will attract families on a holiday weekend.

The latter is OK with Ruderman even though that might go against the somber theme of Memorial Day weekend because he knows it is a chance annually for veterans to interact with children. That might result in some indirect education.

"We recognize there will be families and children," said Ruderman, who in 2016 was named Manatee County's Veteran of the Year and who last year was the parade's grand marshal.  "We like the interaction with the kids. And when the kids see this (parade), they will remember."

They could be asking their parents what it all means. We can only hope so.

Unless we see them in the movies, today's soldiers operate in anonymity. The parade is a chance for all of us to meet the real-deal soldiers.

This year's Tribute to Heroes Parade will be held May 26, running its usual course through Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. Thousands of spectators are expected once again to line Lakewood Main Street.

Lakewood Ranch Community Activities' Danielle Bugel, the marketing manager, and Joanna Bailey, the director of events and partnerships, are piecing together the parade participants with a little more than a month to go.

They have 32 entries so far to be part of the parade procession and they can take up to approximately 70 entries. They had 65 entries a year ago. They stress that those who want to enter the parade, whether a group, a non-profit or a business, should sign up as soon as possible. It's a chance to help veterans — proceeds from the parade support VFW Braden River Post 12055 and the Del Webb Lakewood Ranch Association of Veterans and Military Supporters — and to expose their business/mission to the masses.

Those who would like to sponsor the event should get on board soon as well. So far, six sponsors have emerged, including main sponsors Veteran Air and Tommy's Express Car Wash. Also along for the ride are Bob Boast Volkswagen, Veterans Affairs Law, Lakewood Ranch Communties, and Triple G's Golf Carts. Anyone interested should email Bailey at [email protected].

Anyone who wants to participate in any manner can also email Bailey. It is important for veterans to participate, not just to hear the applause, but to be present to share their stories, and to show pride in their service. 

Triple G's Golf Carts is an interesting addition in 2024 as that will be the mode of transportation for the veterans who choose not to walk in the parade. The veterans have ridden in Corvettes in the past, but getting in and out of the Corvettes proved to be troublesome for those veterans who are advanced in age. The golf carts will seat six veterans in a vehicle. Hopefully, they will be clearly marked to honor each soldier or first responder. All veterans have the option of riding or walking.

Music, as always, will come together late. Bugel and Bailey are working in the hope of getting musicians in the Lakewood Ranch High Marching Band to participate in the parade. It's a tough time for a high school band because school has released for the summer and uniforms have been collected. However, the Marching Mustangs have shown up in the past, and they bring the event up a notch. Hearing those drums pound as they approach always gets my heart beating faster.

I would also hope the Braden River High marching band could be included as well in the future. This is a marquee event and I would hope school administrators would want to support the veterans.

As usual, there will be bagpipers.

A block party will run from 5-6:30 p.m., and will feature live music from the band, I-Ruption, which plays reggae music. While the past two Tribute to Heroes Parades featured the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble and Aloha Ukulele, the move to more of a dance band should spice up the block party atmosphere.

I will miss the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble because they play marches, and what could be better for a parade atmosphere?

The VFW will have an information tent set up at the event if you want to talk to them about how they support area veterans in need, whether that means helping with a new refrigerator, car repairs, a roof or finding a place to stay if they are homeless. Ruderman noted that VFW Braden River Post 12055 has no overhead so any funds they collect go right to veterans in need.

"We also give scholarships to Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high school students," he said.

Among the entries that have signed up are DD-214 Jeepers of Southwest Florida and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, which figures to have 25-to-30 motorcycles riding in the parade. 

The 2023 parade had approximately 20 floats, and Bugel and Bailey said they will be about the same in 2024. 

The staging area will be crowded this year as one lane of Health Park Way, which always has hosted the staging area, will be closed now that new apartments are open opposite from Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.

Veterans who want a bite to eat before the parade can go to Lakewood Ranch Town Hall for a free light dinner. That service opens at 5 p.m.

It's all new to Bugel, who will be working on the parade for the first time. However, she is fully invested.

Her grandfather, Emerson James Dillon Jr., was a New York State Trooper who was killed in the line of duty. Her father, James Giarrusso, is a retired policeman from Syracuse.

"This is special for me because it hits home," Bugel said.

Being the grand marshal hit home for Ruderman a year ago.

"It meant more than I can express," he said.



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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