Inform, Entertain, Inspire
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

West Side Memorial Day parade revived in South Bend after three-year hiatus

 West Side Memorial Day Parade
Marek Mazurek, WVPE
Katie Reaves, center, and South Bend Mayor James Mueller help change the name of Ford Street on Friday, May 26, 2023.

For the first time since 2019, there will be floats and American flags waving along Ford Street this weekend as the West Side Memorial Day Parade comes back to South Bend.

Friday saw a taste of the coming festivities with parade marshal Katie Reaves joining South Bend Mayor James Mueller and other parade organizers for the ceremonial street changing at the corner of Ford Street and Lombardy Drive.

Ford Street will be Memorial Day Drive for a few days, but more importantly, there will be a parade to commemorate Memorial Day for the first time since 2019 as a beloved west side tradition gets new life.

“We are excited to bring back this tradition. It’s great for the west side of our city and great that as a city that we remember our fallen heroes,” Mueller said to onlookers on Friday.

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 canceled the West Side Memorial Day Parade. Last year, the lack of a celebration was harder to bear as event organizers pulled the plug due to a lack of volunteers. The cancellation was especially tough on Reaves due to her friendship with veteran Don Pickens, a veteran who died in early 2021.

“There were probably about 15 people, but most of them were all over 60. It just wasn’t going to happen, they aren’t physically capable of doing it,” said Reaves. “I lost it, I cried. All I could think about was that guy from the Legion and how they were going to read his name off and he loved the parade. And it hurt.”

This year, Reaves and South Bend council member Sheila Niezgodski made sure the parade happened. They started reaching out in February to get volunteers and entries for the parade. There will be nearly 70 parties in the procession, including a number of local veteran groups as well as the Benton Harbor and Adams High School marching bands. Reaves is especially excited for a flyover from some replica World War II aircraft.

Planners also needed help from the city to provide security along the two-mile parade route. South Bend police officers and other city personnel will be stationed at each intersection along Ford Street as the marchers make their way to Olive Street.

Niezgodski represents the 6th District where the parade takes place and is a veteran herself, serving in Operation Desert Storm. She said she’s gone to the parade since she was a child and is glad the community has stepped up to bring the celebration back for the 97th time this year.

“It was really an engagement with the community as well,” Niezgodski said. “Because the community really came together. People showed up to the meetings. ‘We need volunteers for XY and Z’ and people stepped up to the plate because it just means so much for the people on the west side here that the 100 year-old parade had the opportunity to be here this year.”

The parade draws people from all over Michiana. Brad Whiteman was at Friday’s ceremony and said he came all the way from Bristol to show his support for those who served in the armed forces. Standing beside his car covered in signatures from veterans, Whiteman said it “wasn’t right” the parade’s been gone for the past few years.

“It felt like it’s been gone forever,” said Whiteman. “Everybody needs to step up and start showing support for our troops who went over there and fought.”

The parade will begin Monday at 8:15 a.m. at the intersection of Lombardy Drive and Ford Street. The parade route will run along Ford Street all the way to Olive Street. After the parade, there will be a memorial service at St. Joseph’s Cemetery at 11 a.m.

Though the planning has been a lot of work, Reaves is glad she was able to help bring people together to honor those who served.

“There’s a lot of people in that two hours on the west side of South Bend, which is awesome. Because it’s everybody, it’s every race, every religion, it’s everything that’s the best about the West Side, that we all come together as neighbors and it’s all in honor of our veterans.”

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.