July Fourth parade highlight of summer

Holiday tradition a staple for Hinsdale residents, participants for more than a century

Series: Quintessential Hinsdale | Story 3

The Fourth of July parade has been a summer tradition for generations of kids growing up in Hinsdale, including Tim Balster. From the time he was in elementary school, Balster said he always found a way to not only watch the parade, but to participate. He pulled a model of the Liberty Bell behind his decorated bike and at age 11 traversed the entire parade route via pogo stick.

After a few years of juggling while riding a unicycle, Balster landed on his most notable mode of transportation in the early 1990s when he donned striped pants, a top hat and a pair of stilts.

Balster thrilled the crowd each year with his towering stature, Uncle Sam costume and signature high kicks.

"I kind of got known for that," he said. People along the parade route would yell "high kick," he said, and Balster would oblige by extending a stilted leg high above the ground. High kicks became difficult after a 2018 knee surgery, Balster said, and when the 2020 parade was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he hung up his stilts for good, ending a 27-year tradition.

As director of the Hinsdale Central marching band, Matt Kurinsky has been an instrumental part of 16 holiday processions through the village's streets. His 17th parade appearance will happen Tuesday, July 4, when the Central band once again will fill the streets of Hinsdale with music.

The parade isn't just a one-day event for Kurinsky and his marching Red Devils. Hours-long rehearsals begin in the days prior, and the day itself starts early with a breakfast for the musicians.

"It's not good to march the parade on an empty stomach," he said.

Even with the band's summer-friendly uniforms of T-shirts and shorts, the parade can get hot, and food and water are essential.

Kurinsky said the Hinsdale parade was one of the first things he did when he became band director. It often is also one of the first activities for an incoming member of the band.

"We invite the middle schoolers to join us," he said, along with community members and band alumni. "It's kind of open to anybody."

The band typically prepares a handful of patriotic songs, along with something just for fun. This year, the parade crowd will hear the band's rendition of "Feel it Still" by Portugal. The Man as they line the streets.

"It's one of the biggest crowds that we'll play for," said Kurinsky, who said the band's appearance in the parade is typically met with cheers of encouragement.

Lisa Kramer, who has lived along the parade route for about as long as Kurinsky has led the band, said the band's appearance is a highlight of every parade, which she watches from her yard on Grant Street.

Kramer said she and her family weren't aware of their new home's front-seat view of the parade until the first Fourth of July after moving in.

"We were pleasantly surprised," said Kramer, whose home quickly became a Fourth of July destination for friends and family. She said husband Doug gets up early on parade day to prepare a Bloody Mary bar for their guests to enjoy as they watch the procession of floats, vehicles, bands and neighbors make their way

down Grant Street.

Even on their own property, they have to use ropes and chairs to lay claim to their viewing area each year. The rest of the lawn, she said, is quickly claimed by neighbors and even strangers looking for a premium spot from which to view the parade.

"There have been hundreds of people in our yard some years," she said, but they've learned to welcome their uninvited guests, whom Kramer said typically are courteous. As for the invited guests, they come with food and drink to share, and the gathering often carries on well after the last parade entry passes the house.

The Fourth of July parade has been a Hinsdale tradition for more than 100 years. And while some things stay the same from year to year, there's always something new to see. Mention the Hinsdale parade to anyone who has been in the village for more than a decade and you're likely to hear about the appearance of Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville in the 2013 parade, thrilling crowds with the newly won Stanley Cup. Hinsdaleans and guests will line up along Garfield, First and Grant streets again this Fourth of July not only to recognize the nation's birthday, but to celebrate the village's 150th anniversary - and to see what surprises this year's parade has in store.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean