Mokena Fourth of July veterans breakfast becoming a tradition
By Susan Demar Lafferty email@example.com July 4, 2013 8:34PM
Flags decorate the fence in front of Mokena’s Main Park for the July Fourth Parade. | Susan Demar Lafferty~Sun-times Media
Updated: August 6, 2013 6:30AM
Joe Werner quickly learned that if you invite veterans to a free breakfast on the Fourth of July you better be prepared to feed an army.
After serving a crowd at his home four years ago, the former Mokena mayor moved the event to St. John’s Church annex and enlisted the help of Eggcetera Restaurant to feed more than 200 veterans and their families who wouldn’t miss this relatively new tradition.
The vets joked that they all come for the food and a chance to eat real eggs — unlike the powdered eggs they were fed in the service.
For Werner, there is “no finer way” to celebrate the holiday than with veterans.
Many are members of the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association, the American Legion Riders and the Illinois Chapter of the Military Vehicle Association, all of whom ride in Mokena’s Fourth of July parade after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon.
Werner, who owns a few antique military vehicles, invited his colleagues to participate in his hometown parade four years ago and graciously offered to provide breakfast because they were arriving early in the morning. He figured there might be a couple dozen people.
There were nearly 100.
“It’s about having a good time and saying thanks,” Werner said.
“We love a free breakfast,” Robert Baisa, a veteran motorcyclist from Tinley Park said.
“We come to honor our country. That is why we joined the service. That’s what we do it for. And the breakfast is always good,” said Ray Hector, director of the AVMRA. “It’s nice that the community comes together like this.”
“I’m glad to see all these people here to celebrate and honor the vets,” said Bill Conner, commander of Post 2791 in Tinley Park, who also was riding with AVMRA. “The Fourth is a time to celebrate and remember that this is an independent country. People have to be reminded of that.”
For Conner, Baisa and Leona Zastrow, also a motorcyclist from Tinley Park, their holiday tradition is a continuous celebration. After breakfast, they march in the Mokena parade, followed by lunch at the Mokena Veterans of Foreign Wars, then over to Tinley Park for a 4 p.m. flag-raising ceremony, they said.
“It gives us great pride to show our respect for veterans,” Zastrow said.
Ray McClory, a World War II Navy veteran and member of Mokena Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 725, enjoys both the breakfast and the parade.
“People show their appreciation. The people of Mokena really turn out,” he said.
Under warm, sunny skies, the crowd definitely turned out for this year’s parade down Wolf Road, where chairs, blankets and tents lined the curb long before the 10 a.m. start.
Bill and Sharon Weber, of Mokena, have been coming to the parade since 1950.
“It would take some very important invitation to chase us away,” Sharon Weber said.
Back then, it was a small parade down Front Street, consisting of Scout troops, tractors and horses, they said.
“The walk to the parade was longer than the parade itself,” she said. “We used to come to the parade to see people. Now we see people we don’t know.”
This year’s parade was “every bit as great as ever,” Bill Weber said.
With a couple of small American flags stuck in his straw hat, Patrick Dunne found a bench outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Wolf Road to watch the parade with his son Shane, and Roger Focia. Afterward, they planned a traditional celebration of “barbecuing, hoisting a couple drinks and watching fireworks.”
The Labriola family, of New Lenox, was attending the parade for the first time.
“I grew up in Blue Island, and we always had a parade,” Hillary Labriola said. “I had to find a parade this year. I love the fun and excitement of the Fourth and to celebrate our independence.”
“We will make this a new tradition,” she said.