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'Best town in America'

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | July 5, 2021 1:09 AM

SPIRIT LAKE — “Forward, march. Left. Left. Left.”

With that, Coast Guard veteran Michael Pickhinke carried the American flag and led the Color Guard with Jake Erwin and Leonard Hoener up Maine Street in Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

The crowd stood and cheered as the three men wearing blue vests and white shirts walked in unison on the sunny and hot Independence Day morning.

Later, Pickhinke said he loved the welcome they received from the crowd of about 700 people.

“That’s what the Fourth of July is all about,” he said. “Today really impressed me with the patriotism. Walking through here, the cheering, it brings tears to the eye.”

People lined up early outside the taverns, eateries and shops on Maine Street to claim good viewpoints on the short route to City Park. They were rewarded with a zany and spirited 30-minute parade full of colorful characters, delightful dancers and terrific trucks and jacked-up Jeeps.

Red, white and blue balloons, ribbons and flags fluttered in the breeze, while sirens, horns and shouts filled the air. Handfuls of candy were tossed out repeatedly, much to the delight of anxious kids who quickly snatched up the treats.

Love of country was on full display in this conservative town where flags fly high.

Senior Donna Davis steered a four-wheeler that had the words, “Racing for God and Country” painted on it.

Senior Janice John motored along in her scooter, oxygen bottle on the seat next to her, as she sent bubbles floating toward the crowd.

She was having a ball and smiled big.

“I got my bubble machine,” she said as she laughed and pulled the trigger.

Paul Sturm wore red suspenders and pants, red hat, blue bowtie and red, white and blue socks as he pulled a wagon with kids and flags on board.

"I love how this brings the community together," he said.

It was a full-fledged family affair, too.

Ashtyn Hahaj held the reins of her equine friend “Scooter McGee” as he was led by Ashtyn’s mom, Jess Hahaj.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Jess Hahaj said. “It’s great to see all the turnout. I think it’s nice to have our small town.”

Val Larson of Spirit Lake was perched on a small wagon, grandchildren inside, as they were pulled along by her miniature mules, Calvin and Hobbs.

“Fabulous,” she said as she held the reins. “Absolutely fabulous.”

Colleen Attebury and Devra Witzel with the Spirit Lake Elementary PTO sat in a covered cart with a sign that read “Teacher + parents = successful students.”

“We love it,” Attebury said. “Best town in America.”

Politics were part of the parade, too, as many vehicles sported Trump banners and signs. “Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump,” said one banner.

Jeremy Cowperthwaite declared his candidacy for Spirit Lake mayor as he stood atop a truck and wore an Uncle Sam top hat and sprayed streams of water at the crowd.

“Making our town great again,” read his sign.

Some made their debuts in the parade, too.

One man, wearing only flag shorts, a giant blue cowboy hat and cowboy boots, led an eclectic and energetic dance group as they turned and twirled and hopped and bopped their way through the parade.

He declined to give his name, saying he was a doctor, but when asked why it was important to be there, he said, "I love America and I love freedom."

Tyler Michell, who owns Retrofit Athletics gym in Spirit Lake with wife Meghan, was joined by Logan Romero as they pulled a 4,000-pound Jeep, with three adults and two kids sitting in it, the entire route.

"We're hot, we're tired, but we've got a rep to keep," a grimacing Romero said.

Mitchell said it was as difficult as it looked.

"It was brutal," he said.

Angel Stubbs and Jeneva Stubbs are with the Spirit Event Committee that organized the parade. Both said it might have been the largest crowd and most entrants yet.

“It’s great for the community,” Angel Stubbs said.

They rode in the parade’s last vehicle that had the words “The End” in red, white and blue, giving the final word and leaving no doubt, this parade was over.

“We always put on the parade, we’re always the last one,” a smiling Jeneva Stubbs said.

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Ellie Stevens, left, and sisters Avery and Morgan Freeman were dressed for the occasion as they participate in Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

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Kids ride bikes in Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

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Janice John sends bubbles toward the crowd in Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

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Veteran Michael Pickhinke, center, carries the American flag and is joined by Jake Erwin and Leonard Hoener as they march up Maine Street in the Spirit Lake Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

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Donna Davis has fun in the Spirit Lake Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

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Angel Stubbs and Jeneva Stubbs, with the Spirit Event Committee that organized Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade, pose at the end of the parade.

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Caren Crumpacker with American Legion Auxiliary 149 in Athol waves a flag on Sunday.

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Logan Romero, left, and Tyler Mitchell with Retrofit Athletics in Spirit Lake pull a Jeep through the Fourth of July parade on Sunday.

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Jeremy Cowperthwaite sprays water at the crowd in Spirit Lake's parade on Sunday.

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Kids rush after candy during Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade.

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Kids go after candy during Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade.

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Ashtyn Hahaj holds the reins of her equine friend “Scooter McGee” as he was led by Ashtyn’s mom, Jess Hahaj in Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade Sunday.

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Paul Sturm waves during Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade.

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Colleen Attebury, left, and Devra Witzel with the Spirit Lake Elementary PTO sit in a covered cart during the parade on Sunday.

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Angel Stubbs looks back as the final vehicle notes the end of Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade.

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TimberLake High School cheerleaders clap during Sunday's Fourth of July parade in Spirit Lake.

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Timberlake Junior Cheer Camp members perform a routine during Spirit Lake's Fourth of July parade.