Leading the parade from the sidelines

Gerald and Bev Dorsher have spent 20 years helping to organize Fourth of July festivities

Posted: Friday, July 05, 2002

It should come as no surprise that Bev Dorsher's fingernails are polished stripes of red, white and blue this time of year. With sparkles.

"For the fireworks," she explains.

Bev and her husband, Gerald, have spent the past 20 years helping run the Juneau Fourth of July Parade. As co-chairpersons of the parade committee, they help pick a theme, organize the entries, select the grand marshals and raise funds. All this with a 15-person committee and a $5,000 budget.

"We have a good working committee. They'd do anything for us," Gerald said. "Towards this time of year it's really a full-time job."

The Juneau and Douglas parades are among Juneau's favorite traditions, a mix of American patriotism, Alaska zaniness and local civic pride. The Juneau parade hasn't changed a whole lot since the Dorshers started volunteering in 1982, except that it's "bigger and better," Bev said.

"The community has gotten much more creative on their floats," she said. "They're doing a wonderful job of creating floats."

The week before the Fourth of July, Bev and Gerald field phone call after phone call about the parade. With an average number of 100 units in the procession, the details are numerous. Earlier this week, Gerald was turning his thoughts to the placards for the winning entries.

"Last year, they got a little damp," he said. "I think they were just made out of cardboard, so we're going to a more substantial material."

Jean Stzuk, another Juneau parade volunteer with about 20 years of experience, describes the activity leading up to the Fourth of July as "chaotic fun." And part of the fun has to do with the Dorshers, she said.

"They're very fine, dedicated, hardworking people," she said. "They love their committee. They treat us well."

The Juneau Amateur Radio Club helps the committee line up the entries, and pin sales and contributions from local businesses cover the cost of the parade. The judges come from whichever U.S. Navy ship is in town for the holiday or, barring that, local community groups. The Dorshers themselves shy away from picking favorites.

"They're all impressive and I wouldn't want to be one of the judges," Gerald said. "As the (entries) are coming to line up, we get just as excited as the people along the route sometimes."

"We don't want to show any favoritism, but you know, that motorized couch potato (last year) was probably the most ingenious I've seen over the years," Bev said.

Planning for the parade gets under way Jan. 1, but the parade committee critiques the event afterward to make next year's procession even better.

The Dorshers' involvement in the community is year-round. They're members of the Moose Lodge, the Pioneers of Alaska, the Douglas Lions and other groups.

Bev is a state officer if the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary. Gerald, who was a U.S. Army combat engineer in Korea, is the post commander for VFW Taku Post 5559, a position he also held in 1965.

"I've always been patriotic," he said. "I remember my father taking us to downtown Minneapolis for the Fourth of July parades. Everyone took off their hats and put them over their hearts (as the flag went by). I'll always remember that."

Bev and Gerald, both 70, went to junior high and senior high school together in Minneapolis. They were high school sweethearts, but lost track of each other after graduation. Gerald moved to Juneau in 1963 to take a job with the Glacier Village IGA store.

After he moved to Juneau, he called Bev, whom he had been dating in Minneapolis, and asked her to visit.

"I started thinking things over and contacted her," Gerald said.

"I came up for 10 days in August, and I was back by December," Bev said.

They were married in their backyard. Between the two, the Dorshers have five children and three grandchildren.

He's now retired, but Gerald worked for the Juneau Police Department, the Alaska Marine Highway System and the maintenance department of the Juneau School District over the years. Bev has been a manager of the Shoprite supermarket in Douglas, a bookkeeper and a greeter in Costco.

Mary Lewis has known the couple for many years and is a member of the VFW Auxiliary with Bev.

"They're busy people," she said. "I know Bev is very generous with her time toward people. If anyone is in need, she'll be right there to help them if she can."

Bev and Gerald aren't exactly sure why they get so involved in the Fourth of July parade each year. They will readily accept help from anyone who wants to volunteer, they added.

"I guess we do it because we love our community," Bev said. "This is tradition."

But don't ask them about the weather before the big event.

"That's one of the secrets," Bev said. "We do not talk or even consider weather."

"We were asked last year if we were going to cancel the parade," Gerald added, thinking of the rain. "We said, No. This is the Fourth of July and that's when the Fourth of July Parade is.' "

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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