Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade is cancelled for 2020
By Steven Hoffman
Like numerous other activities and events scheduled throughout the nation during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade has now been cancelled. It was originally set to take place in Kennett Square on May 25.
The parade, which traces its origins to 1948, is one of the longest and most highly attended in Chester County and traditionally lasts more than 90 minutes as the units proceed through town and then join at the cemetery for a dedication ceremony finale. This was parade committee chairman Bill Taylor’s 16th year in charge of organizing the event.
In the circumstances of the national crisis, he sent an e-mail out to his participants several weeks ago which began:
“It is with great regret that we have cancelled the Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade currently scheduled for Monday, May 25, 2020.”
Taylor, 81, also added in the letter that he is retiring from the position chairman of the committee, a decision he made earlier this year.
The erstwhile CEO of the family-run Taylor Oil and Propane in Kennett Square, said although he will miss it, he is not gloomy about the cancellation. and he has many other things that he will finally have time for.
At first, when social distancing restrictions began in March, Taylor said he was hoping the parade was still on.
“I was hoping when we got to May 1, it would be a go,” Taylor said. “Everything was on hold, though. I wanted to hold off and see what was happening on May 1. But I was getting cancellations….you know,” he said with is voice trailing off.
Taylor added, “There were still some groups and even small bands that were willing to come, but we couldn’t have social distancing here because there are so many people,” he said.
Thousands of spectators have lined the streets of Kennett Square in recent years to enjoy the parade, and spectators are often packed three-deep on the sidewalks. The parade is one of the borough’s biggest and most extravagant annual events and includes a wide variety of musicians, dancers, organizations, military groups, antique vehicles, fire trucks and re-enactors. It also includes the showcasing of three or four grand marshals who are usually World War II veterans.
With the announcement of the cancellation, there was widespread disappointment expressed in the community.
Mary Hutchins, a Kennett Library development associate and the former longtime Historic Kennett Square executive director said, “It’s a double blow to the community because we could use a parade now, and he’s retiring. …He puts it together from start to finish.”
Hutchins continued, “He made it an event. It’s people like Bill Taylor who are the heart of Kennett Square. His parade is part of the fabric of our lives, and it feels like we’re beginning to unravel. Nothing feels the same.”
Leon Spencer, who previously served on borough council, the school board, and was the mayor of Kennett Square said Taylor is “an amazing man and a mainstay of the community. Even though he said earlier he was going to retire, we saw signs of his dedication nevertheless [in his willingness to help out in the future]. To think of the future without him, he’ll still be here to have a place and help.”
Gerald Treadway, who walks through, and more recently rides in the parade dressed as Uncle Sam, described his reaction when he learned that the parade was being cancelled in 2020.
“I think it’s something everyone will miss. I’ll miss the crowd. It will be unusual for me not to be riding in that 1917 Buick with [antique car enthusiast] Lou Mandich driving.”
Taylor is a lifelong resident of Kennett Square. He describes himself as “a patriot and veteran who loves this country,” and added that he has always had a special affection for those who fought in World War II and the families who supported them.
In the early years of Kennett Square holding an annual Memorial Day Parade, the event would feature Little League players and anybody else who wanted to gather downtown at 10 o’clock in the morning.
“Whoever came marched in the parade,” Taylor explained. He got involved in planning the event when the borough celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2005. Prompted by his devotion and admiration for veterans, he enhanced the event as a project of the American Legion. By the third year, the budget had grown to $7,000 and was being held in partnership with Historic Kennett Square.
Through the years, the parade has grown to include more than 100 units and a luncheon of hot dogs, baked beans and other all-American snacks at the Legion building afterward.
Taylor sends out invitations early in the year to invite participants back and often has other groups asking him if they can march as well.
He said one of the high points of participation came when then-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett asked if he could be part of the parade.
Paraphrasing actor Humphrey Bogart from the movie “Casablanca,” Taylor said with a laugh, “Of all the parades in all the little towns in the Pennsylvania, he chose mine. I told him he could come, but no campaigning.”
Asked if there were any low points, Taylor said he was especially disappointed when the late television Cowgirl Sally Starr was scheduled to come but at the last minute called out sick. The public had expressed excitement about her coming, but she told Taylor that her delicate health prevented her from making the trip because of the hot weather conditions on that day. Taylor said he even arranged an air-conditioned convertible for her to ride in, but that was not enough. In her stead, Gerry Treadway as Uncle Sam rode the parade route.
“People still ask me about that,” Treadway said.
Taylor’s patriotism plays heavily into his planning. That is why he always has a memorial service at the local cemeteries on North Union Street at the conclusion of the parade. He also showcases several grand marshals who were veterans of World War II. As the years have passed, many of those veterans have passed on. This year, Taylor said, he had found only one veteran to serve as a grand marshal—Donn Barber. Friends were helping track down more.
“He’s 100 and told me he’s still in good health,” Taylor said.
With his departure from the Memorial Day Parade, Taylor has no lack of activities that will engage him. He loves to fish at Indian Run Bay in Delaware and has vacation homes in the Poconos and the shore.
And then there are the Billy Beans. Taylor and is wife inhabit a small farm in Kennett Township where he is host to four goats and a flock of chickens that lay blue eggs. He also adores his garden where he cultivates his famous Billy Beans. They are lima beans extraordinaire that he takes pride in growing distributing to friends when they mature at the end of the summer.
“Last year, they won at the Unionville Farm Show,” he said.
Several years ago, he told friends that he was denied lima bean seeds from distributors because they were somehow in high demand or low quantity. He said proudly that he sent them money and still got his supply for the year.
What is the future of the Memorial Day Parade?
Taylor said his son will have a part in future parades and he himself is willing to pitch in.
The paraphernalia for the parade is plentiful and stored in a garage at the Taylor Oil and Propane property.
Additionally, he conscientiously maintains “bibles” for each year that detail the steps to follow and the contacts for all the participants.
“All they have to do is follow the bibles. Even if they have trouble lining them up, they can just march in the order that they showed up,” he said. “We start in November and it’s a lot of work. But there are the bibles and the parade storage room. I’ll have free time and I’ll miss it some. But I will help out.”