ZELIENOPLE — Every square inch of shade along Main Street and the western end of Grandview Avenue was occupied late Wednesday morning, as more than 2,000 parade enthusiasts tried to stay out of the searing sun.
The Zelienople Fourth of July Parade saw audience members three rows deep on the east side of Main Street and far fewer on the west side, where the blazing sun caused temperatures to hover around 90 degrees.
“I am dying in this heat,” said Jasmine Moyer, 10, of Harmony. “I'm sweating to death!”
Jasmine's discomfort was eased a little by the candy that was tossed from about 200 floats, emergency vehicles, pageant winners, business vehicles and classic cars that inched down Main Street in front of her.
The annual parade kicked off at 11 a.m. Those who braved the heat clapped and cheered for the bands, horses, baton twirlers and floats that made their way west on Grandview and turned south onto Main Street.
Bessie Mershimer of Evans City has been attending the parade for decades. She parked her lawn chair under a tree at Park United Presbyterian Church on Wednesday.
“It's a family tradition,” Mershimer said of the parade. “It gets all the people to get along and say they can get in a crowd and have a good time.”
Mershimer, who turned 88 on Tuesday, came with her two sons and daughter-in-law.
“Family is everything,” Mershimer said.
Jim Miller, Zelienople police chief, said 16 officers from his force plus Lancaster and Jackson townships were on hand for the parade.
He said the biggest trouble he expected was the possibility of someone passing out from the heat.
Miller said he knows of people who travel home to Zelienople to watch the parade each Independence Day.
“It's a big community thing,” Miller said. “The country needs community.”
Nicole Weaver, a 2012 Seneca Valley High School graduate, traveled home from White Plains, Md., where she is a teacher.
The Harmony native has come to the parade just about every year since she was a baby.
“It's fun, and it's exciting to see everyone I graduated with and the people from town,” Weaver said.
The floats, vehicles and marchers who passed paradegoers included senior citizen Betty Lambert twirling her batons like a teenager; a rider atop an Appaloosa mare and ponying her spotted foal alongside; dozens of police, fire and rescue vehicles from Callery, Adams Area and Harmony fire districts, and Zelienople, Cranberry and New Sewickley townships, as well as Franklin Volunteer Fire Department in Venango County; an orthodontist throwing cellophane-wrapped toothbrushes into the crowd; an Ozzy Osbourne look-alike; Zelienople Mayor Tom Oliverio atop a shiny red sports car; the county Tourism and Convention Bureau vehicle with a kayak, bicycle, golf clubs, a cow statue and garden plants in the back; flat-track go carts driven by youngsters; the Big Knob Antique Tractor and Equipment Association; and two or three floats with their riders tossing flavored ice pops to the crowd.
One group of dancers from a local studio had to move around an instructor who was randomly misting the girls as they kicked and spun to the music.
John Schurko watched the parade from in front of a coffee shop, overtop of which is his apartment.
While Schurko mopped his brow a few times with his T-shirt, he looked markedly less miserable than those around him.
“I can run up and sit in the air conditioning for a few minutes and fill my water cup,” he said, “but it's not as much fun from the window.”
He thinks parades and festivals are a critical part of communities like Zelienople.
“You've got to show you care and get people together,” Schurko said. “Especially today, when everyone is stuck in their houses with their electronics.”
Carson Hutchison, 7, hid from the sun in the shade of a trash can along Main Street.
He gave the parade two tiny thumbs up as a huge replica of the upper half of the Statue of Liberty passed by.
“I love it!” said Carson, as he picked through the melting candy he got at the parade.
Jaylyn Herman, 7, attended the parade with her family in honor of Independence Day.
“I came to celebrate our Army and our soldiers,” Jaylyn said.
She said her favorite song of the day was “You're a Grand Old Flag.”
Jeff Simmons of the Rotary Club of Zelienople said the Rotary has been planning the Fourth of July Parades for several decades.
“It gives us the opportunity to recognize different parts of our community,” Simmons said as he sipped cold water, “like our churches, emergency services and other organizations that make our towns a better place.”
Raymond Albert Jr. sat on a lawn chair on the shady side of Main Street while holding a huge American flag.
“I have it to show my patriotism to this country,” said Albert, who is a Vietnam veteran from Zelienople. “I am an American, and I don't kneel to anybody but God.”
He appreciates the effort organizers put in to plan the parade each year.
“It's great,” Albert said. “We need to stand up for this country.”