Oak Harbor Veterans Day Parade continues despite deaths

Despite the deaths of two key people involved staging the Nov. 11 Veterans Day Parade in Oak Harbor, the parade to honor those who served in the military, will go on.

Parade organizer Shelley Blackburn, 56, the wife of a former Navy man and an active American Legion member, died unexpectedly Oct. 25.

Additionally, the eldest veteran, slated to be the parade’s grand marshal, Harold Picard, 87, died on Oct. 30.

Picard, a parachute rigger in the Navy, was selected to be the grand marshal by Blackburn.

“We don’t want these (veterans) to pass without knowing they are appreciated and honored in Oak Harbor,” Blackburn said during a Whidbey News-Times interview published Oct. 19.

Denny Zylstra, who served at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, is now grand marshal, said Melissa Riker. Zylstra enlisted a year after his 1958 graduation from Coupeville High School. He was part of Electronic Attack Squadron 138 flying EA-18G Growlers, known as the Yellow Jackets for 20 years.

Riker was approached by Blackburn, a friend, to help reboot the Oak Harbor parade on Veterans Day, canceled last year because of a lack of interest.

“This is her project,” Riker said. “In her honor, I’m pushing forward.”

A Celebration of Life for Blackburn is planned at 1 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Oak Harbor American Legion.

Blackburn and Riker asked military veterans at Careage in Coupeville if they’d like to ride in parade cars. Five took them up on the offer, including Picard, a Navy Master Chief Parachute Rigger.

Picard volunteered for more than 20 years at the Retired Activities Center at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. He helped widows and widowers with military benefit paperwork to “get all their ducks in a row” as he put in an interview for Crosswind several years ago.

The article explained that Picard was one of six dedicated volunteers helping veterans but more were needed to provide full staffing during the center’s posted hours.

“Most of us (volunteers) are older retirees, but we die,” Picard said.

The Veterans Day parade is 2-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11. It will travel the “Walk of Honor” down Pioneer Way, from Regatta Drive to Midway Blvd.

Donations to stage the parade were secured from Walmart, Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion.

“We live in a Navy town and it’s super important to honor the veterans who live in this town,” Blackburn also said in the Oct. 19 article about her efforts to reinstate the parade.

“She was the Network Queen, that’s what we called her,” said her husband, Donald Blackburn. She was always organizing and bringing people together.”

Blackburn added that he’s been overwhelmed with the support shown his family since his wife’s death from a heart attack.

“The people who stepped up and what they’ve done has been beyond belief,” he said. “I’ve never been at the receiving end. The support has been unbelievable.”