Hugh Grogan, the Grand Marshal for the 40th annual Sioux Falls St. Patrick's Day Parade, doesn't consider a friends-and-family gathering on St. Patrick's Day much of a success unless there are more than 70 folks stretching the limits of his home.
And this year there could be even more to help Grogan celebrate. He grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in the North End of Sioux Falls and Grogan and his family have since been a visible part of every St. Patrick's Day parade.
Grogan credits his wife Jan as critical in the celebration. "Without the work and support of my wife, we would probably be eating hot dogs instead of Irish stew on St. Pats," he says.
The St. Patrick's Day Extravaganza Committee plans the day's events with support from the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. Known as the "people's parade", it typically draws thousands of people from throughout the region to watch an eclectic ensemble that includes individuals, groups, business and – especially – Irish families.
Grogan, 72, a tireless advocate for the homeless, was director of the Minnehaha County Department of Human Service for nearly 30 years. Reflecting on his childhood in the North End, he says, "I guess I thought that everybody was Irish. Every block had at least one family with seven to 12 kids."
Grogan is the oldest of 11 children in a family that is 100 percent Irish – "or at least as much as you can be." He's descended from Grogans, Malloys, Kelleys and McEraneys, Irish families, who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1800s from Ireland during the Great Famine.
The tight-knit Grogan family suffered a tragic loss in 1966 when Wally, the patriarch, died at 48. Their mother, Cleo, raised the family, and "despite the challenges she faced, provided an example of a life filled with love, faith and joy."
Over the years, the Grogan family float has been a highlight of the parade, including in 2001, when Cleo was the Grand Marshal and the float was a replica of her home. Other themes have included the Blarney Castle, Grogan's "Pub", and even a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine.
"We are a clan proud of our Irish heritage and grateful for the opportunities that America has offered to us and our ancestors who came as immigrants to this great country," Grogan says. "Now that pride is carried on by our children and grandchildren."
Events on March 16 are kicked off at 11 a.m. with the traditional painting of the shamrock at 9th Street and N. Phillips Avenue. The parade takes off from Phillips Avenue and 13th Street at 2 p.m. and ends around 5th Street.
Advance registration is required in order to participate in the parade and there continues to be no entry fee. Registration must be completed online at siouxfallschamber.com/stpatricksday.cfm by March 9.
Each parade entry must have some kind of Irish theme. Each participant over 16 must purchase and wear an official St. Patrick's Day Parade button. The $3 button helps cover the costs of the parade and supports Special Olympics South Dakota.
Buttons are available in advance at the Chamber of Commerce office, 200 N. Phillips Ave., numerous businesses throughout the community and from Special Olympics volunteers. They can also be purchased the day of the parade at the start of the parade. Since 1982, nearly $141,000 has been raised for Special Olympics of South Dakota, the primary benefactor of the button sales.
Sponsorships from Sanford Health, Avera Health, Holiday Inn City Centre and Xcel Energy help underwrite the costs of bringing the Khartum Temple Pipes and Drums from Winnipeg. They have performed in the parade almost since the start and make guest appearances in local schools, nursing homes and hospitals in the days leading up to the parade.