Bill Baker will celebrate his 60th birthday on March 14 with a special flair: He'll be the Grand Marshal of the 41st annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Baker retired earlier this year from The First National Bank in Sioux Falls following 36 years of service, including 19 years as CEO and president or chairman. He was the fourth Baker family member to lead the 135-year-old bank since 1910. Although he's retired, Baker will remain the board chair.
His family roots are predominately English, but Baker says a genealogy DNA test shows he has 13 percent Irish blood. It's his wife, though, the former Peg McGuire, "who brings legitimacy to this outfit!" Baker says.
Known as the "people's parade" since it was started by the late Sylvia Henkin, the St. Patrick's Day Parade typically draws thousands of people from around the region to watch an eclectic ensemble that includes individuals, groups, business and – especially – Irish families.
The Bakers have three children, Maggie Groteluschen, Lauren Baker and Billy Baker. Peg, an avid knitter, is already at work on Erin (or Irish) sweaters and vests for children and grandchildren. Baker says the whole family plans to march in the parade.
The 41st Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade
Saturday, March 14
Parade participants must register by March 9.
'Our whole family is excited about the opportunity to play a big role in the St. Patrick's parade this year," Baker said. "The bank has always been a part of the activities."
Baker grew up in Sioux Falls, working at jobs ranging from "pig alley" at the Sioux Falls Stockyards, to bartender at a resort, to helping at the bank. He's been on the board of numerous non-profits in Sioux Falls, but the experience he remembers most vividly was when he was head of the 2002 Sioux Empire United Way campaign and convinced country-star Dolly Parton to put on a benefit concert to kick off the drive and its Imagination Library program.
"Dolly had started her Imagination Library which gives young kids a book every month," Baker said. "I was really surprised when she accepted my invitation to come here and offer a full concert to support our campaign and the reading program. It was amazing to meet and work with Dolly and in the end, she covered all of the concert costs."
The parade, which is planned by the St. Patrick's Day Extravaganza Committee with support from the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, has been held on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day since 2009. Events on March 14 will kick off at 11 a.m. with the traditional painting of the shamrock at 9th Street and N. Phillips Avenue. The parade begins at 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 local non-profit organizations.
Buttons are available in advance at the Chamber of Commerce office, at numerous businesses throughout the community and from volunteers. They can also be purchased on March 14 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.