Memorial Day is seen by many as the official start to summer and there’s no better way to celebrate the arrival of sunshine, warmth, vacations and fun than with a parade.
Memorial Day falls on the last Monday in May which this year is May 28th. The Dexter Memorial Day Parade begins at 10:00 a.m. with a ceremony in Monument Park afterwards.
Thanks to Dexter Rotary Club, our city is one of the few remaining towns around that still has a Memorial Day Parade. Rotary took over the parade in 2013 when it was in danger of being ended. Rotary member and parade organizer, Steve Feinman believes in the importance of remembering those who have served our country’s military.
“We think it’s a very important program for the community,” he says. “It’s important because memorial day is about two things: Remembrance of those people from who have served, fought and even died going all the way back to the Civil War. It’s also a celebration of what they fought for, what we have today. If they hadn’t served, fought and died, we wouldn’t be here, our kids wouldn’t be here, our community wouldn’t be here.”
While the exact origins of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, are disputed, Yale university historian David Blight places the beginning of the holiday in April 1865 when a group of former slaves gathered in Charleston, SC, at a Confederate prison site where more than 250 Union soldiers had died. They dug up the soldiers’ mass grave and respectably interred each individual in their own grave. A few days later, 10,000 Charleston residents, a blend of African, white, children, and Union soldiers marched around the new cemetery singing and scattering armfuls of red roses. While the event is largely forgotten today, some historians consider it the first Memorial Day.
Dexter has its own visible connection to the Civil War. Colonel Harrison H. Jeffords was born in Dexter July 3, 1834 and commanded the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Union Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. While on a recruiting trip in his home state, he was given a new national flag to replace the regiment’s original flag which had been damaged in recent battles. Jeffords told the group, “I will defend it with my life.” Jeffords was posthumously noted for heroism on July 2, 1863 during the Battle at Gettysburg where he was killed … defending that flag. He is buried in Dexter’s Forest Lawn Cemetery just a couple blocks from the street that bears his name. The monument of Monument Park in downtown Dexter is a tribute to Jeffords.
Dexter’s Memorial Day Parade is one of several highly anticipated community events throughout the year, but there is a difference. “The Memorial Day event is both solemn and celebratory at the same time,” says Steve Feinman. “It has a different purpose in that it is about getting us to pause and remember.”
Feinman stresses that it is not a commercial operation. “It is not a profitable event,” he says. “Nobody pays to be in the parade. We don’t solicit donations. Elected officials currently holding office are welcome to participate but not anyone running for office.”
After the parade, there will be a memorial ceremony at the gazebo in the shadow of Col. Jeffords’ statue with a featured speaker yet to be announced as well as other contributors such as poet Roger Robicheau who will this year be reading his moving poem, The Purple Heart.
Last year’s parade had more than 800 participants and thousands more lined along Main Street watching. If you are interested in participating in the 2018 Memorial Day Parade presented by The Rotary Club of Dexter please read the rules and complete the downloadable application which can be found at: http://www.dextermemorialdayparade.com/participate.html
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