One year after the Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade took a traditional turn and built on the theme of “Honoring Those Who Gave Their Lives for Freedom,” the I Love a Parade Committee that organizes the event had a clear mandate: don’t mess with success.

Mill Valley’s biggest day-long party of the year is set for May 25, beginning with the Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighters’ Association’s Pancake Breakfast from 7-11am and ending with the post-parade Kiddo! Memorial Day Community Celebration at the Community Center. But the main event is the Parade itself, which centers this year on “Mill Valley Salutes Memorial Day,” according to Larry “the Hat” Lautzker, head of the committee that includes a number of longtime prominent local residents.

“It’s about teaching our children to remember and honoring the sacrifice’s made by our friends, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers what they gave, so we could be free,” Lautzker says.

Lautzker says the Committee’s goal each year in picking a theme is to inspire and support the Mill Valley community to be the best town in America. 

“Our intention this year is very simple: let’s all play with our friends, neighbors and fellow merchants.Break out the Red White and Blue, build wondrous floats, great window displays and show our kids and country how creativity and working together help to create amazing results,” Lautzker says. 

The Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade was first produced in 1980. It was organized by Paul Moe of Brocket Construction, who still handles staging for the parade’s current iteration. The “I Love a Parade Committee” was formed in 1992 by Joe Leis, followed by local architect Billy Budd and assisted by Lautzker, who has been the head of the committee since 2002. The committee also includes fifth generation Mill Valleyan Stephanie Wickham-Witt, architect Chris Raker, former City Council member and Mayor Cliff Waldeck, noted jazz pianist Larry Moss and our graphic designer Jim Moon. 

Lautzker says 1992 was the first year of dogs marching with more than 200 dogs of all sizes and breeds. “The Grand Marshall that first year was Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s band, Celebrity Judges included Jerry Garcia, Mimi Farina and Joel Bartlett,” he says. “Rock Stars on Harley’s with portable amps playing our national anthem. All of this has continued and the parade has grown in size and public participation.”

Now there are more than 60 different entries in the parade each year and trophies are awarded for Best Car, Best Float, Best Dog, Best Music, Best Novelty, Best Business, Best Community Spirit and Best Overall.   

As for the 2015 parade theme, “In military traditions of various times and places, there have been numerous methods of performing salutes, using hand gestures, cannon or rifle shots, hoisting of flags, removal of headgear, or other means of showing respect or deference,” Lautzker says.

As with the 2014 edition, the parade will be preceded by a ceremony to honor soldiers from Mill Valley who died during war. The ceremony will be held on Throckmorton Avenue across from Lytton Square, the tree-laden island that splits the road between Miller and Corte Madera avenues into two. The island is named for Lytton Barber, Mill Valley’s first WWI casualty.

Applications to enter in the parade are now available online, and must be received by May 22. Entry fees are $75 for commercial entities and $35 for nonprofits.

Lautzker said that while the parade will be much more inclusive of Mill Valley’s original Memorial Day Parade, it won’t lose the community party spirit that has been so evident over the past decade. The parade, which begins at 10:30 at Old Mill School and runs down Miller Avenue to Tam High, regularly draws more than 6,000 spectators each year, and includes more than 60 participants. 

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