Draft Executive Marches to His Own Parade

Tony Weisman's Do-It-Yourself Patriotic Holiday Entertainment

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Every Memorial Day and Labor Day, Tony Weisman dons a tri-cornered hat and sets out from Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, where, since 1975, he's led the city's oldest do-it-yourself parade, with its engaging tagline "Everybody marches, nobody [just] watches."
Tony Weisman, chief marketing officer of Draft, Chicago, is parade marshal of the Wellington-Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society.
Tony Weisman, chief marketing officer of Draft, Chicago, is parade marshal of the Wellington-Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society.

Mr. Weisman, chief marketing officer of Draft, Chicago, is parade marshal of WOOGMS, Wellington-Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society, today marking its 43rd year of flag-waving.

"I think we're making a lasting impression on youngsters," said Mr. Weisman, whose father, the late Al Weisman (who ran corporate communications at Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago), started the parade in 1963 as a means to expose kids to patriotism in a fun way. "He knew kids would have more fun being in a parade than watching one pass by on the street," said Mr. Weisman, 46. "He also understood that if kids played a more active role in the parades, the real meaning behind the holiday would become more apparent to them."

From the parade's first year, which marshaled about 10 people, including Mr. Weisman as a 3-year-old, the event has grown to include more than 1,000 marchers who traverse several blocks, ending up at the local St. Joseph Hospital, which plays host for the post-parade entertainment.

"We have lots of marchers who are multigenerational," Mr. Weisman said, with people who marched as kids coming back with their kids. Seeing their smiles has "a magical feeling," he said. "You're behind a squad car and the street is closed and you're in a parade."

Year after year, the parade keeps drawing huge crowds: It's a constant, he said, always starting at 11 a.m. at the same corner. The Jesse White Drum Corps, a drum corps for inner-city youth, starts off the pre-parade action at 10 a.m., followed by "Taps" on a bugle, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star-Spangled Banner, of late performed by Mr. Weisman's 12-year-old son on an electric guitar. "It's great; he does this Jimi Hendrix-like version," said the proud father.

There are only a few rules: While politicians are welcomed (state and city lawmakers regularly walk the route), speeches are banned. Spectating is also discouraged, even though gawkers from high-rises line the route. People come in all manner of costumes, with decorated bikes, strollers, buggies, wagons. Dogs, cats and other pets also join the festive trek.

The logistics of running a parade aren't simple. Before parade day, there are the dealings with the Chicago Police to obtain a parade permit and assure streets are blocked off. The Chicago Transit Authority also has to reroute buses. But Mr. Weisman said there's never been a problem. It's such an inclusive cause, "You can't have a beef with that," he said. "We don't have an agenda."

Over the years, the parade has taken various shapes. They used to march at Halloween in costume. They've also marched on the Fourth of July, but have settled into the Memorial Day/Labor Day pattern over the last few years as a way to bookend the summer.

Parade participants often carry flags. In times of conflict, they are collected at the end and sent to the men and women of the Armed Forces overseas, with notes explaining that the flags were carried in support of the troops.

And just as he did beginning at age 14, Mr. Weisman's sons, 12 and 16, now take turns holding the baton on the front line.

"We got it from here, Dad," is what they told him last year, he said. "I marched in the back. My wife said, 'You're completely replaceable.' "

Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret fishing hideaway? Rabid about the World Cup? Ad Age is looking for interesting Off Hours stories from marketer world executives. If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an email to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.

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Chicago loves its parades. In addition to dyeing the Chicago River green for its annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, the city steps off for a number of occasions:

* Gay & Lesbian Pride Parade

* Cinco de Mayo

* Columbus Day

* Polish Constitution Day

* North Halsted Halloween

* State Street Thanksgiving
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