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Change in ‘Old Neighborhood’ parade route has some seeing red

A change in the route for the Old Neighborhood wearing o’ the green has some Old First Ward residents seeing o’ the red.

To eliminate problems caused by unruly spectators on narrow O’Connell Avenue and to showcase the vista of the grain elevators and a new park, Margaret “Peg” Overdorf, who began the “Old Neighborhood” St. Patrick’s Day Parade 23 years ago, lengthened the route two blocks.

On March 19, when the 23rd annual parade steps off at noon from the Valley Community Center, it will stay on Hamburg Street to South Street, rather than turning right onto O’Connell. It will finish at South and Louisiana, rather than South and O’Connell.

When the change was announced, some people objected to the change via comments on Facebook. One even suggested that with the final stretch of the parade along the Buffalo River, some people might be at risk of falling into the water.

“They’re nutty,” said Overdorf. “The parade is the same except this year, because of its growth, we moved it to a street that is wider, with a lot less residences. That street also has the great views of Elevator Alley and Mutual Riverfront Park, so it’s introducing more people to different views of the neighborhood.”

O’Connell Avenue had grown to be a pinch point, she said, congested with spectators. Residents “were complaining about the crowdedness, the unruliness,” said Overdorf.

An explanation on the Valley Community Association’s Facebook page said, “Spectators and residents are complaining and participants are not wanting to take part in the event because of drunken kids that are jumping over barriers, urinating in the streets, fighting, and being disorderly and disrespectful. South Street is a wider street and hopefully we can bring the dignity of this parade back.”

The route she devised for the “Old Neighborhood” parade 23 years ago retraces some parts of the city’s original St. Patrick’s Day parade, but was designed to highlight the churches, the most important institutions in the neighborhood, Overdorf said. “We went by St. Stephen’s on Elk Street and Our Lady of Perpetual Help on O’Connell. Now we’re going to visit the waterfront.”

The comments on Facebook include speculation about why the parade is being moved, she said. “Some people are saying that I’m doing it for selfish reasons so it ends closer to the new lodge at River Fest Park, they think the money is going into my pockets, but everything we earn at the lodge goes back into the park.”

But while some people are critical, others are thanking her, Overdorf said.

“I told my staff, 99.9 percent of the people down here love the parade, love the tradition, and it’s this little group of goofballs who have nothing to do but fester and complain. But people understand that there is liability, we have to do what’s best for us and best for the people who come to watch it.”

Some people also are unhappy that parade organizers have prohibited marchers from throwing candy to children. According to the Valley Community Association’s statement, “Too many spectators were letting their children run into the street in front of moving vehicles and it became too much of a liability.”

Overdorf said she hopes people who support the parade will turn out from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday for a fundraising party in the Valley Community Center, 93 Leddy St.

Tickets, which will be sold at the door, are $20 and include draft beer and soft drinks. Canned beer, wine and food, including corned beef, will be sold. “We have a special dispensation for people to be able to eat corned beef on a Friday in Lent,” Overdorf said.

The band Emerald Isle will perform.

This year’s grand marshal, Henry “Corky” Connors, an Old First Ward native, assisted with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations long before the “Old Neighborhood” parade even began. He was best known for arranging the loan of a tractor-trailer and flatbed from his employer, Higgins Crane, then towing many award-winning Valley floats, including ones that depicted the neighborhood’s churches, businesses and famous residents.

This year’s parade will be dedicated to four longtime residents who died in the past year. They are Joan Slattery and Dot Trusnik, both lifelong residents of the Valley and longtime Valley Community Center volunteers, Robert “Hopper” Rush, a longtime basketball referee at the Valley Center, and Eddie Smith, who videotaped the parade every year since it began.

Smith’s videos, along with photos, will be shown.

The thousands of people who turn out to watch the parade far outnumber the 200 or so who turn out for the party, Overdorf said. “If everyone who attends the parade showed up for our fundraiser, we’d be doing well.”