ESCANABA - Marching to the beat of a different drummer has never been an issue for Bonnie Wenick-Kutz, who takes to the streets every year to keep Escanaba's parades afloat. Because of her continued service to the community, she has been selected as the Daily Press and NewPage Volunteer of the Month.
Wenick-Kutz has been a driving force in Escanaba's parades for nearly 39 years. While she plans to retire from her role as the community's parade organizer in the future, she is hesitant to publicize exactly when she will step down.
"My competitors don't need to know that," she laughed.
Bonnie Wenick-Kutz has been a driving force behind Escanaba’s parades for nearly 39 years. (Daily Press photo by Ilsa Matthes)
Despite a friendly competitive spirit, for Wenick-Kutz, the parades are an opportunity to make people smile.
"I enjoy it, and I love watching the faces. That's the reward," said Wenick-Kutz.
At the time Wenick-Kutz was first asked to attend a parade committee meeting, the city's Christmas parades were put on by the Downtown Business Association and the Delta Plaza Business Association. After a few years of working with the parade committee, Wenick-Kutz took the lead.
"This is something that just happens and just evolves. It's not like anyone said, 'Bonnie, will you do it?' I just started doing it," she said.
While the esky150 parade held earlier this month was not the largest parade Wenick-Kutz ever put together - a parade composed entirely of motorcycles holds the record for most entrants - the esky150 parade was a special experience for Wenick-Kutz.
"This was more rewarding because it was everyone giving to the community and some of the people had participated in the parade 50 years ago so it was exciting for them to say, 'Hey, I was here 50 years ago and here I am again,'" she said.
Wenick-Kutz took special care to try to recreate many of the features of the centennial parade - including the placement of floats and even the use of tissue paper on the float carrying the centennial queen candidates.
"Can you imagine I mean being able to have that memory 50 years later, to remember exactly who you were lined up with? I was able to create that 50 years later," said Wenick-Kutz.
In addition to taking parade registrations, Wenick-Kutz and her team of family, friends, and volunteers are responsible for ensuring the that parade participants are properly lined up on the street. For a Christmas parade taking place on Friday, Wenick-Kutz spends the Wednesday night before the parade determining where floats, walkers, and marching units need to be placed. Her husband, Karl Kutz, then takes to the streets to mark the road where each entrant needs to line up prior to the start of the parade.
"I do things that I like, and they usually involve my family too. I have a fantastic husband who is always willing to help," said Wenick-Kutz, noting that she frequently convinced her friends to help as well.
Even though Wenick-Kutz is always too busy making sure that things run smoothly to be able to watch the parades she organizes, she believes that she enjoys bringing the events together as much as anyone who participates or watches the parades.
"I got as much enjoyment out of (the sesquicentennial) parade ... it would be a highlight of my life. I won't make it to the next one I can guarantee you that," she said.
Wenick-Kutz feels the crowd and the parade participants feed off of each other's energy during a parade, allowing the participants to feel the excitement without witnessing the entire event. However, many of the participants and organizers regret not being able to see the event from a spectator's perspective - especially with a parade like the sesquicentennial parade.
"I heard from so many of them, 'It was so fantastic, but I missed the parade, and I heard it was so fantastic. Hope somebody recorded it,' and I hope somebody recorded it too, because I don't know of anyone who did," said Wenick-Kutz. "If there's someone out there that recorded it, we could use some feedback there, because a lot of people who would like to see it."