Planning for the annual Harvest of Harmony Parade goes on all year. But on the morning of the parade, everything builds to a crescendo. High school bands from throughout Nebraska begin warming up before sunrise near Howard Elementary School. Parade float participants begin to gather along Cedar Street in preparation for the fall celebration.
After a day of overcast skies and showers Friday, the rain had left the area. It was cool and breezy, but there was blue skies as the sun began to spread its light. The parade started a little after 8 a.m. with the temperature in the mid- to upper 50s.
Michael Porter, chairman of the Harvest of Harmony Parade Committee, was out with the hundreds of volunteers who were directing and organizing the parade participants.
Harvest of Harmony is a Grand Island tradition that began 78 years ago. Along with the bands, floats and parade volunteers, paradegoers also started gathering along Third Street well before parade time to get their favorite spot along the route. Along with the nearly 100 bands participating in the parade, including the band from the University of Nebraska–Omaha and a high school band from Wyoming, there were also 75 floats representing a diverse cross-section of the Grand Island community, from businesses to nonprofits to youth organizations.
“We are pretty excited about this year’s parade,” Porter said.
The beauty of the parade is that bands from throughout the state travel here for the event, from high school bands with a little more than a dozen members to bands with nearly 200 musicians. It’s a cross-section of the strength of music education in Nebraska.
Another strong tradition of the Harvest of Harmony Parade is the hundreds of community volunteers who help to organize and make the parade possible. The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce sponsors the celebration.
Porter said he had been part of the Harvest of Harmony Parade Committee for five years.
“You get to see the impact this parade has on the community,” he said. “It is nice to help out on a big event like this and have everybody come together to put on an awesome parade every year.”
Longtime volunteer Tom Graves was out early in the morning, helping to get the huge parade organized.
He has been both driving classic cars in and organizing the parade for 40 years.
“It is the camaraderie of all the people who come every year to participate or volunteer for the parade,” Graves said. “Many of our volunteers have been doing this as long as I have.”
He said the parade is an excellent spectacle of young musicians, their instruments and the joyful sounds they make.
“The bands like coming here,” Graves said. “When do you get the opportunity to march with 100 bands, from eight kids to 180 kids? It just seems to get better every year.”
One of the many floats participating in this year’s parade was a wagon full of about 25 Cub Scouts from Pack 107. Their float was titled “Building Friendships, Dreams, and Memories.”
“We had each Scout draw their favorite memory from Camp St. Augustine and have them fill in the blank of what their dream will be when they grow up,” said pack leader Eric Hollister. “That way, they could participate in the building of the float and have something they made individually.”
This is the pack’s eighth year participating in the parade.
“They enjoy it, and we always have a good turnout for it,” Hollister said.
Outside Howard Elementary School, warming up, were the members of the Central City High School Band. Their director is Alex Steinke. The band had 60 members marching in the parade.
Steinke said it’s their first big parade of the year. They were also participating in the field competition after the parade.
“We have probably been coming to this parade since the beginning,” he said. “It’s only a half-hour away. It is a great time and experience for the kids.”
Steinke said one of the great things for his young musicians is the opportunity to listen and meet members of other bands, from the big schools to the small schools.
“Being part of a band is a great opportunity for these kids to learn teamwork and how to work together,” he said. “It does it better than any other subject we teach or activity we do.”
All along Third Street in Grand Island’s Railside District waited more than a thousand people, many of them gathered as families, such as Andy and Kelli Pedersen of Grand Island and their three kids, A.J., Nolan and Hannah. Both the Pedersens marched in the Harvest of Harmony Parade when they attended Northwest High School.
“We come down every year to watch the parade,” Andy said.
This was the first year for their young daughter, Hannah.
“We like all the floats, and the boys really like the bands,” Andy said. “It is really family-friendly.”
He said when he and his wife marched in their first Harvest of Harmony Parade, “It was a great experience.”
Both Andy and Kelli hope to see their children one day march in the parade, carrying on a multi-generational tradition for many people dating back to the parade’s beginnings in the 1940s.
Also participating in the parade was Gov. Pete Ricketts, who walked the parade route.
“It is a great day for a parade in Grand Island,” said Ricketts, who was in the community earlier in the week to celebrate Manufacturing Month at the Case New Holland plant.
He said parades are essential, “because they bring us together and builds communities.”
“It is great to see so many people come out, especially all the kids,” Ricketts said.
From Nebraska’s beginning more than 150 years ago, music has been a vital cultural part of the fabric of the state, whether it was the community band or the school band. Harvest of Harmony continues that long tradition of the importance of music to a community and a student’s education.
“It is part of the things that build a community,” Ricketts said. “We are brought together by different types of music. It is part of what makes us Nebraska.”