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July 4 tradition at the lakes

Ellie and Anna Glass of Vail, Colo., paint their mermaid tails in preperation for the Lake Eunice Fourth of July boat parade. They are here visiting their grandparents Jeff and LeAnn Grabow. The sisters wanted to re-create a boat theme, Under the Sea, the family had in the past. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

When it comes to celebrating the red, white and blue on the water, it’s a family affair.

LeAnn Grabow and her sister Lynn Schram head up the Lake Eunice boat parade, and each year they spend time planning and decorating the three boats that hold all their family members. This year they are planning for 30-40 relatives, which is lower than the usual 50 they have.

Between the women and their siblings, they have 15 grandkids – 12 under the age of 8 – but that doesn’t mean the adults aren’t just as excited to get into the spirit of the day, too.

“It’s something all the grandkids look forward to,” Grabow said, adding that the adults get in costume as well.

Tuesday afternoon, Grabow’s granddaughters, Anna and Ellie Glass, were visiting from Vail, Colo., and getting their mermaid costumes ready. The girls worked on painting the ends of their tails, while grandma worked on sewing the body portion of the tail.

Grabow said she will have her sewing machine out Fourth of July like she always does, making last-minute adjustments to costumes.

The ladies’ parents live on the lake as well and like seeing their family members pass by on the boats.

“That’s why we keep this tradition alive,” Grabow said.

This year, the grandkids decided on an “Under the Sea” theme, complete with mermaids and fish. Grabow said that with the variety of themes over the years, they have tubs full of decorations that they can reuse.

The sisters listed off multiple themes they have mastered each year, including a 1950s theme with a jukebox and hubcaps on the boat; Yellow Submarine; a circus; a covered wagon; and of course, red, white and blue.

“The theme usually depended on what dance costume my niece had that year,” Schram said with a laugh.

Another family big on themes and a tradition of getting together on the boat is Big Floyd Lake resident Marlys Shafer and her family.

Shafer said she’s not sure how many years her family has been participating in the boat parade but at least a dozen years, and each year, they have a new theme. Sometimes the theme is well thought out, and sometimes it’s a last minute effort, but regardless, the family has brought home the trophy on multiple occasions for best decorations.

“The first couple years we took the trophy home, and the last few years we’ve taken second or third place,” Shafer said.

Some of their past themes have included Grandpa’s Flower Garden, where they decorated the entire boat with paper flowers, the Yellow Submarine, and last year was jailbirds.

Their family is a bit smaller, with 12 participants, six adults and six children.

“Once we had grandchildren that were old enough to have fun with it,” she added as to when they started participating.

An though the older grandchildren aren’t quite as excited anymore, two younger ones come from California and have a good time getting grandma and grandpa’s boat ready for the parade.

“We’ve always had a real good time with it,” she said of the boat parade.

After the decorating is done and the boat has launched, Shafer hangs out on the beach as the family’s official photographer for the event.

“We watch the whole parade, those of us adults that stay behind.”

She said there are over 20 boats that participate in the parade.

“I think it’s been a fun thing for the whole lake to take part in, and it’s always been run very well and different judges doing it every year,” she said.

Big Floyd Lake resident and Floyd Shores Association President Mike Mathias said that there are 20-30 boats participating in that parade as well.

“We have ‘secret’ judges on the lake and rate the boats on creativity, enthusiasm and patriotic message,” he said. “Trophies go to the winners along with gift certificates.”

The Lake Sallie and Lake Melissa parades bring out about 80 decorated boats of all kinds, Commodore Gail Tronnes said.

“Homeowners are encouraged to decorate their docks, homes and properties in celebration of the Fourth,” she said. “Traveling trophies will be awarded for various categories of decorations – boats and people.”

At the Lake Eunice boat parade, Grabow said they average between 45-50 boats on the water, sometimes leaving fewer people to watch from the shore than on boats, she said with a laugh.

The fun doesn’t end at the boat parade either. The families have noodle races in the water, water balloon tosses, ladder golf, money digs in the sand and more activities.

The sisters said their Fourth of July party usually starts at 10 a.m. with decorating the boat and getting costumes ready and ends around 10 that night with a bonfire.

Grabow said that unless the water is unsafe, their families participate in the boat parade.

“It’s set, we’re doing it,” she said with a laugh, adding that a little rain hasn’t stopped them in the past. Strong wind and lightning would, though.

Let’s hope for sunny skies this year.

July 4 boat parades

  • Lake Eunice Fourth of July Boat Parade will be held at 11 a.m. Meet in the middle of the lake.
  • The Long Lake Boat Parade begins at 3 p.m., beginning at the public access. The parade travels north around the lake.
  • Big Floyd Lake Boat Parade begins at 2 p.m. There will be secret judges around the lake with prizes awarded.
  • The Little Floyd Lake Boat Parade will also begin at 2 p.m. with secret judges around the lake and prizes awarded.
  • The Lake Melissa-Sallie Association Fourth of July boat parades are at 10:30 a.m. Lake Melissa boats meet at Shoreham Channel. Lake Sallie boats meet at the Maloney-Michaelson residence. Both proceed clockwise around the lakes.
  • The Cotton Lake Boat Parade begins at 10 a.m. beginning at Curley’s.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.