Leslie Grothe and Tom Gump
July 2020 – Nearly every Independence Day, a 100-unit procession queues up along Willson Road and unspools onto Eden Avenue and then West 50th Street. If all goes smoothly, spectators along the route – and there were more than 20,000 of them in 2019 – probably won’t spare a thought for the monumental logistical challenge that Edina’s Fourth of July parade represents.
Tom Gump and Leslie Grothe, outgoing co-chairs of Edina’s parade committee, can speak to this herculean feat better than anyone.
“In an average year, I would say that we start planning in January, and won’t be done until August,” Gump explained. Responsibilities range widely, from soliciting sponsors, to coordinating a small army of day-of volunteers, to planning a veterans appreciation dinner (traditionally held July 3).
Piecing together each summer’s lineup is among the hardest tasks, and the one most unique to parades.
“Here’s an example. When you have a horse unit, like the Carver County Mounted Posse, you can’t put them right behind a hot air balloon. When they light off their flames, it will scare the horses. You can’t have an equestrian unit too near a band, for the same reason. … And of course, there’s also possible clean-up to consider. You have to think about who is stationed behind horses, as well.”
Moreover, despite what the orderly cavalcade along West 50th Street might suggest, the operation is not a strictly “linear” one. Military vehicles and veterans congregate at the Our Lady of Grace Church parking lot (on the opposite side of Minnesota Highway 100), and equestrian units wait outside the Edina Executive Plaza building.
“Behind the scenes, we have to merge these units in – each at the right moment. It takes constant attention,” Gump shared.
Fortunately for Gump, leadership does not rest on his shoulders alone. For all but one year of his tenure, he has enjoyed the partnership of an able co-chair. For the past two years, that colleague has been Leslie Grothe.
Grothe’s affinity for this treasured community tradition long predates her time as an organizer. “I actually participated in the Centennial Fourth of July Parade in 1988, riding on a float for Marquette Bank,” she explained. Organized as the focal point of that milestone anniversary year, “this parade led the way for what is now our annual Fourth of July parade.”
It wouldn’t be her last year enjoying a sliver of the limelight. Grothe’s father, Dennis Maetzold, served as Edina’s Mayor from 1999 to 2004. “I got to ride up in the car with him several times.” She also played with a marching band in 1997’s procession.
Her original role on the planning committee – and a key responsibility she has retained during her time as co-chair – is booking and liaising with the entertainment groups involved. (Many contributors do so as volunteers. However, unlike many Independence Day parades, which rely solely on gratis participation, Edina’s enjoys a budget to flesh out the ranks with various professional acts.)
Grothe says that her job is made somewhat easier by the Edina Fourth of July parade’s strong regional reputation. “We are very fortunate to have a loyal group of parade participants that want to come back every year. We continue to add to that base, as well.”
This momentum is part of a virtuous cycle. “Spectators know what to expect from [this] parade. They will see favorite acts every year,” Grothe said.
Gradually, “growing attendance puts Edina’s festivities on the radar” for still more Twin Cities entertainers, Gump added.
In recent months, COVID-19 threw Grothe, Gump and their fellow organizers the biggest curve ball in the Fourth of July parade’s decades-long history. While they could certainly have been excused for doing so, they didn’t cancel the summer tentpole outright, however.
“I know how to line up flatbeds, get generators and organize tents and water,” Grothe said. Each is crucial in a normal year, but social distancing requirements meant “thinking outside the box, and well outside of the norm. … We wanted to keep the community engaged, but in a safe and responsible manner.”
For the outgoing co-chairs, the finished product – a clever compilation of prerecorded video submissions – is certainly not what they expected. It is, nevertheless, another prime example of Grothe and Gump’s commitment to the parade and all it represents.
Watch the 2020 virtual parade online at https://youtu.be/KpibsXlX9qQ or on Edina TV (Comcast channels 813 and 16) 4:30 p.m. Sundays, 12:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Mondays, 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 12:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Wednesdays, 4:30 p.m. Thursdays, and 12:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Fridays through July 31.