A Boom Box Parade to beat the band
Three cheers for the red, white, blue
By Kimberly Graves, Chronicle Correspondent
 
WILLIMANTIC -- Doreen Ellis of Lebanon planned her week-long vacation in the south around Friday's Boom Box Parade.
 
"We had to gime it so we could be back," said Ellis, a teacher at St. Mary-St. Joseph School in Willimantic, who just arrived home from a vacation in Virginia and West Virginia Thursday night.  Ellis participates in the parade every year as "Glory"--a clown clad in red, white, and blue.
 
Unlike other town parades, which only permit people to march if they are part of a civic group, the Boom Box Parade lets anybody march provided they have a boom box -- or radio -- tuned to WILI-AM and they sport some red, white, and blue.
 
Ellis missed the Boom Box Parade five years ago since she was getting ready for her son's wedding and couldn't wear any face paint.
 
"I came her the day of the wedding...we had a very relaxing morning," said her son, Derrick Ellis.
 
And now on his fifth wedding anniversary, he watched the Boom Box Parade with his wife, Carrie Ellis, and their 9-month old son, Owen Ellis.
 
Ellis and his family, like thousands of others July 4th, came to Main Street to celebrate their freedom in downtown Willimantic during the 23rd annual parade.
 
This year, political groups, non-profit organizations and a group opposing the war in Iraq all had a moment in the spotlight marching down Main Street.
 
Windham Board of Education members Susan Collins and Bruce Clements marched in the parade urging people to vote "yes" on the school budget on July 15.
 
Ron Manizza, of Mansfield Center, a member of the Thread City Cyclers, rode his bicycle down the road hoping others will follow suit.
 
"Right now we have to stop driving," Manizza said.  Attached to his bicycle trailer hung signs reminding people of how much it costs for fuel with regular unleaded gasoline at $4.39 and diesel at $5.09.
 
Other signs hanging off his trailer read "Ride a bike," "This tank is never empty," and "Save the oil to make more bicycles."
 
Manizza said the average American only lives 11 miles from work and he would like to see fewer cars on the road and more bicycles for the commute.  He said it would be great for everyone's health, the country, and the atmosphere.
 
He said people could even ride bicycles to the grocery store.  He said his trailer helds up to 12 bags of groceries.
 
Others just marched in the parade for fun.
 
The Burns family--most of them from Willimantic--built a train with the cars made out of industrial drums.
 
Each drum was cut in half and spray painted red, white, and blue.
 
The youngest passenger was three-month-old Anna Burns with her parents Mary and Jared Burns right by her side.
 
Jared Burns serves in the U. S. Air Force and is currently stationed in Abilene, Texas.
 
"It's nice to get a break from base life," Mary Burns said.  "Today it's all about the family."
 
Family and friends of Kathy Clark, one of the parade's founders, squirted thousands of spectators with water guns and threw water balloons from their float.  Clark, also the Willimantic Cupid in 1991, died in October 2003.
 
Many of the spectators wore red, white, and blue as they celebrated the nation's birthday.
 
Nancy Lombardo of Willimantic used to march in the parade when she was in Girl Scouts while her father, a colonel in the Air Force, marched with other service members.
 
Lombardo said the Fourth of July is all about freedom.  "It means opportunity for everybody--not just one person," she said. 
 
But for five-year old Devlin Hawkins of Canterbury it was more about what people were throwing from the floats.
 
He enjoys the Boom Box Parade and the Fourth of July "because there's candy and you can get to eat a lot of it," he said.  He also got to have his hair painted like a red, white, and blue Mohawk.
 
As most everyone was enjoying themselves, Carolyn Soboleski of Ashford didn't forget the true meaning of the day.
 
"It's about the United States of America and our freedom," she said.  "It's a wonderful place to live.  It's the only place to live."
 
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