Celebrating 45 years of St. Patrick’s Day parades

Saturday’s Grand marshal Irish in name only

Nora O’Connell-Balda is not Irish.

But that could change soon.

“I’m getting results back from one of those DNA tests so you never know,” she laughed. “But I’m mostly English despite my outrageously Irish-sounding name.”

With or without shamrock genes, O’Connell-Balda has been named grand marshal of Oak Harbor’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“This will be exciting,” O’Connell-Balda said about the honor. “I am going to wear green if I don’t have to wear a snowsuit.”

Indeed, the St. Paddy’s Day parade is known for being a wee bit nippy, windy, rainy or white with snowflakes. This year, the parade falls on the actual date of St. Patrick’s — March 17.

All kinds of groups and organizations take part in the parade that’s sponsored by the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the Irish Wildlife Society.

“Last year, we had 50 entries and we have 40 this year,” said Mike Thelan, one of about a dozen members of the Irish group.

For 45 years, the Irish Wildlife Society has made sure Oak Harbor goes green every St. Patrick’s Day.

Green shamrocks appear in front of businesses overnight, corn beef and cabbage replace taco fixings at the American Legion and “wearing of the green” is heavily promoted.

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1973 featured a green pickup truck and not much else.

The grand marshal that’s selected by the Irish Wildlife Society doesn’t have to be Irish, Thelan said.

But they are usually community leaders or known for their tireless volunteerism.

O’Connell-Balda is a founding member of the Soroptimist Club of Oak Harbor that started in 1981 and she’s active with the Oak Harbor Arts Commission and Oak Harbor Garden Club.

She also served one term with the city council. She credits that time for getting to know the Boys & Girls Club of Oak Harbor. She’s not only its biggest fan, but also helps with capital fundraising and sits on its advisory board.

O’Connell-Balda is especially impressed with the Boys & Girls Club’s before and after-school program that has about 190 students enrolled.

“I believe in what they do,” she said. “They have an amazing staff. They are patient and kind and understanding with those children.”

Retired from her days in real estate, O’Connell-Balda has more time to indulge one of her favorite pastimes, glass art. Her home is decorated with many stunning pieces of fused glass by Northwest artists.

She’s also a docent at Pilchuck Glass School, natch.

Unlike her other volunteer gigs, being the St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal doesn’t involve anything more than sitting in a vehicle and waving.

Or maybe there’s more to it than that.

“I asked, ‘what is it I have to do?’” O’Connell-Balda said, “but I never heard back.”

• St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Oak Harbor begins 1 p.m. Saturday, March 17 at the intersection of Midway Avenue and Pioneer Way. St. Patty’s Dinner featuring corned beef and cabbage, after parade, March 17, American Legion Post 129, 690 Barrington SE Drive. Tickets: $9