In 1979, Sylvia Henkin called a few friends and community leaders together. They gathered around her kitchen table to discuss her idea of a St. Patrick's Day parade. Sylvia had witnessed St. Patrick's Day celebrations in New York and she wanted to bring that fun and Irish spirit to Sioux Falls.
As with most things that Sylvia set her mind to, the idea quickly turned to reality. The first parade was held in 1980 in downtown Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls lawyer Claude Hamilton and his wife served as the Grand Marshals. Sylvia invited the Khartum Temple Pipe & Drums from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to travel to Sioux Falls to participate in the parade and other festivities of the day. The group has returned every year since.
This year marks the 40th annual St. Patrick's Day parade. It remains an event that brings the community together to celebrate – just as Sylvia envisioned. The parade is called the people's parade because anyone can participate, as long as they are wearing an official St. Patrick's Day Parade button. Over the years, sales of the buttons have produced $163,720 for local nonprofit organizations – the majority of that for Special Olympics.
Sylvia Henkin served as the parade's Grand Marshal in 1989 and again in 2013. She is the only person to receive the honor twice.