Menomonee Falls — It was 57 degrees and a cold mist was keeping things just wet enough to make it uncomfortable, but that didn't stop hundreds of Menomonee Falls residents from staking their claim on an ideal spot for the July 3 parade more than 24 hours in advance.
"It feels like we're setting up for a Thanksgiving Day parade, not the Fourth of July," said longtime resident Jim Ludowssi, who parked his truck in the Schumann Stadium parking lot at 5:30 a.m. July 2, "but it's tradition. It's worth it."
It's not the first time Ludowssi has employed the car strategy as an early tactic of claiming his spot along the parade route along Woosencraft Drive.
"Oh, we've been doing this for years," he said. "The whole thing is almost as exciting as the parade itself."
Ludowssi is not the only one to go to great lengths to maintain tradition. A group of old friends a couple of vehicles down from Ludowssi have participated in the Falls tradition of the pre-parade land grab with their families for almost 30 years.
"I was here at 6:30 this morning with the car," said lifelong resident Mark Thielke. He went to work during the day, but said he was sure to return to the spot to meet up with his friends Joe Lau and Mark Schroder by 5 p.m. "That's when things start getting really interesting."
By police ordinance, no actual setup or roping off of spots can occur until 7 p.m., or 24 hours prior to the parade. Many in attendance who were either unfamiliar with the rule or chose not to abide by it had their stakes removed by police at around 5:30 p.m.
"It's important for us to create an atmosphere for safety," said Menomonee Falls Police Chief Anna Ruzinski, who a few days beforehand put out a public service announcement reminding residents to be smart about their plans to lay claim along the parade route. The information included a reminder that police can and would issue citations for loitering, disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer if necessary.
"We don't want people camping on the streets, we certainly don't want them camping on the median, we just want to keep people safe," Ruzinski said. One of the methods that has been added in recent years involves closing down Appleton Avenue from 7 to 7:30 p.m. to allow people more safety setting up viewing areas in the median.
"Is there a right answer how to do it?" Ruzinski asked. "I don't know that there is, but we do know we are never going to please everyone because not everyone is going to get a front row street. If everybody would just be respectful of other people and understand we all want to enjoy the parade, that would be the best thing for everyone."
Though there was an arrest made at last year's setup, this year went off without a hitch. There was a mad dash into the road a couple of minutes early, and the prime real estate along most of the route was entirely claimed by about 7:10 p.m.
"We had to do a little negotiating as 7 p.m. approached," Thielke said, "but overall everything came together as we had hoped. Now comes the fun part."
He and his buddies will entertain their families the day of the parade, some of whom are coming from as far as North Dakota and California to partake in the tradition.
"Let the cornhole games begin," he said.
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