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Oak Harbor loves a parade

"A huge turn-out of Oak Harbor parade-goers saw the sun break through the clouds Saturday, adding color and sparkle to a Holland Happening parade that showcased VQ-1 heroes, glamorous cheerleaders and patriotic marching bands.An estimated crowd of more than 10,000 lined the mile-long parade route along Pioneer Way and Bayshore Drive - 10-people deep in many places - to catch a glimpse of nine Navy VQ-1 aircrew members among the 24 held in China earlier this month. The crew members, starring as honorary grand marshals, rode with their families in antique autos, and were joined by the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, sent to honor the crew compliments of Ross Perot, Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate. Also joining the event were the Seattle Seahawks Seagals cheerleaders, and miles of the floats, bands and parade participants. There were 115 parade entries.Grand marshals of the parade, riding in the style and comfort of a white stretch limousine, were Arnie and Betty Freund. Arnie is an 83-year resident of Oak Harbor, having been born and raised here. Betty has been an Oak Harbor resident since marrying Arnie in 1946.There were no more than 200 people (living) here when we were young, Arnie said, talking about how much Oak Harbor has changed since his boyhood. The couple used to own a farm on the property which is now the site of the Wal-Mart and Albertsons shopping center at Swantown Road and Heritage Way.The Freunds said they were honored to be parade grand marshals. Betty said she found a purpose for having such a big car - holding peoples' coats, which were shed as the sun added unexpected warmth.The nine VQ-1 crewmembers and their families lined up behind the Freunds' limo in bright classic convertibles. Onlookers waved little American flags as they passed, still energized after the crew's April 14 homecoming at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station's Ault Field. The air crew were individually introduced by city leaders at the end of the parade route where city of Oak Harbor and Naval Air Station cranes created an archway over Pioneer Way, where a giant American flag was bannered over the street. Lt. j.g. Richard Payne and his wife Jill were in the first car behind the limo. The bright yellow convertible sponsored by Navy Federal Credit Union was donned in red, white and blue ribbons and bows.This is really exciting, said Payne, adding he was to return to work Monday for the first time since being detained on the Chinese island of Hainan.The line of convertibles continued with Dallas and Seattle cheerleaders, perched on the backs of the cars, waving at the crowd, and offering photo opportunities with admiring fans.As the cheerleaders passed, young men lining the sidewalks along Pioneer Way were heard to say, That's what I came out to see!Oak Harbor High School's award-winning cheerleaders cheered their way along the parade route, along with the high school marching band. Near the end of the parade route, the OHHS cheerleaders showed some of their award-winning moves that involved This year's parade was one of the biggest Holland Happening parades ever, with participants ranging from high school bands, to clowns with cars, to wartime veterans, and many, many bands. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts tossed candy to the crowd, while fantasy-land floats representing everything from a strawberry festival to a futuristic space station wowed the crowd.It didn't rain on the parade, said Mark Williams, of Oak Harbor, adding he was glad the weather cooperated.Williams and his wife, Dianne, who recently retired to Oak Harbor, said this is the first Holland Happening parade they've ever attended. This is a special one because of the VQ-1 incident, said Williams.While the weather held out for the parade, the rest of the festival weekend was plagued by rain and high winds.Around 1 a.m. Sunday, winds kicked up to about 50 mph downtown near the waterfront, blowing vendors' tents down and merchandise around. Quick thinking by the overnight security personnel, Heidi Kuzina of Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Oak Harbor Fire Department saved much of the vendors' merchandise. Many of the tents were damaged, forcing vendors to pack up and leave.It looked like a disaster zone, said Priscilla Heidecker, the chamber's executive director.Despite wind damage, vendors said they were happy with being set up outside and want to be outside again next year, Heidecker said. You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611 "

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