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Take comfort from winter: South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade is just weeks away

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:33AM



Standing in a sport coat and shivering, Tom McGourty had a simple message Thursday morning outside a grocery store in Chicago’s 19th Ward.

“Just think how happy we’ll be in a few short weeks,” said McGourty, an organizer for this year’s South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, at a press conference kicking off events leading up to the annual event.

Given the brutal weather Chicago’s been slammed with this year, those who braved the frigid temps on Thursday couldn’t help but look forward to the prospect of warmer times ahead. But a stiff breeze and bone-chilling weather can’t deter the tough folk of the 19th Ward, especially when it comes to their big event of the year.

This year’s parade is scheduled to step off at noon March 16 at 103rd Street and Western Avenue.

McGourty, who is co-chairman of the parade committee, announced the grand marshal and honoree of the parade, which will be held in presumably more viewer-friendly weather.

The Mulliganeers, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping families with children with birth defects, will be the parade’s grand marshal this year. The honoree will be County Fair Foods, 10800 S. Western Ave., which is celebrating its 50th year in business and served as the backdrop Thursday.

The parade, which began in 1979 when a group of 17 children marched around the 10900 blocks of South Talman and Washtenaw avenues, eventually grew too big for its own good and was canceled after a raucous 2009 parade. After a two-year hiatus, a scaled-down parade returned to Western Avenue in 2012. It won rave reviews that year and again in 2013 when 150,000 attended.

Organizers hope “the legacy continues for many generations to come,” McGourty said.

“We continue to celebrate faith, family and community as well as customs, music (and) dance that make up our Irish heritage and culture,” McGourty said. “We’re already calling bars on the North Side, colleges, reminded them why it doesn’t make sense to come down here. It got out of hand, but we’ve got that element under control.”

The parade committee depends on donations for the estimated $200,000 needed to present the parade and pay for private security, barricades and portable toilets. A parade fundraiser will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Feb. 22 at 115 Bourbon Street, 3359 W. 115th St. in Merrionette Park.

“We encourage everyone to come out and join us and raise the funds needed for the parade and to highlight our wonderful community,” McGourty said. “Ticket prices are just $30 per person. That’s a bargain, I gotta tell you.”

The parade queen will be announced at the party. For more information, visit www.southsideirishparade.org.

Those gathered in the parking lot for Thursday’s news conference were treated to a performance by the brother-and-sister team of Abbie and Ethan Nelson, 10 and 7, of the McNamara Irish Dancers, as Dan Cantone strummed a guitar.

But the focus Thursday was on the Mulliganeers and County Fair, which “both illustrate a strong commitment to faith, family and community,” McGourty said.

The Mulliganeers is dedicated to raising funds for children and their families in need. The volunteer based group has been “Giving Kids a Second Chance” since 1995 and distributed more than $4.3 million dollars to over 260 kids and families, founding member Mike Zindrick said.

“We are honored to be the grand marshal,” Zindrick said. “We are based on the concept of bringing two groups together, the less fortunate who struggle every day just to make ends meet and those caring individuals who discover joy in helping those in need.”

Jeff and Mary Jo Smith, of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, have benefited from the group, which helped pay medical bills for their son Michael, 11, who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder and has had 25 surgeries since then.

“They financially helped us get through things that weren’t covered by insurance,” said Smith, who now serves on the Mulliganeers board. “They were a godsend,”

While introducing the honoree, parade committee treasurer George Nedved called County Fair Foods “a mainstay of our community,” noting it has provided jobs for many teens and adults over five decades.

Owner Tom Baffes said County Fair “is thrilled to be honored at the parade.”

“The parade marks a time when family and friends come together and enjoy this wonderful parade, and some great corned beef,” Baffes said. “Hopefully, this year is going to be a beautiful day and we can put Old Man Winter to bed.”



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