South Side Irish Parade steps off as family-friendly event

March 11, 2013 5:46:26 AM PDT
It was a chilly and, at times, wet day for the 35th annual South Side Irish Parade Sunday.

The dreary weather kept some people away this year. Parade organizers say attendance was down.

However, thousands still came out for a 35-year-old South Side tradition. This year had a very special twist to it as the parade was dedicated to Chicago's first responders, especially to those who have recently died in the line of duty.

After a few years off it was back for a second year with a new family focus.

The parade began when ribbon was cut by three women who share a bond they didn't ask for; they are widows of Chicago's first responders.

The families of fallen Chicago police officer Michael Flisk, Chicago firefighter Walter Patmon and Fire Captain Herbie Johnson were the grand marshals of this year's parade.

"The firefighters serve the community and for the community to give back is great," said Diane Patmon, wife of Walter Patmon.

"They work so hard and put their lives on the line for us that coming out celebrating is the best honor we can pay to them," said Peg Flisk, daughter of Michael Flisk.

Herbie Johnson never missed the South Side Irish Parade. The Chicago fire captain, who was killed on the job last November, drove a fire truck in the parade every year.

"All the kids would be on the fire truck with him this was his day," Herbie Johnson's daughter, Julie Johnson, said.

"Herbie loved it, he always made sure he got the day off of the fire department for this day he loved," said Susan Johnson, Herbie Johnson's wife. "This was his day."

The rain didn't keep the crowds away from this South Side tradition. Future firefighters and their families lined the streets to take in everything Irish.

"I'm home from spring break from college and this is all I've been looking forward to is coming back, and being back in the neighborhood," said Liz Hroma. "It's an Irish spirit that you carry on everywhere, the South Side spirit."

The South Side Irish Parade began in 1979. It was put on hold for a couple years after it too many complaints of rowdy attendees and drinking.

Last year, the parade returned as a family friendly event. There is more security and zero tolerance for public drinking.

Chicago Police and organizers say there were no complaints of problems Sunday.