The Willow Grove Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will hold two events that celebrate both our nation’s military and the Willow Grove Tri-Centennial.
Both taking place on May 1, the Willow Grove VFW’s Freedom Steps and Loyalty Day Parade have drawn many spectators and participants in the past, and many are highly anticipating their return.
Freedom Steps is a 5K walk/run event held to help raise awareness and supplies for American troops overseas.
This year’s Freedom Steps event will take place at , with registration starting at 9 a.m. (See bottom of page for event details)
The event started in 2008 as a result of a Pennsylvania state grant to the Willow Grove VFW ( Post 3612).
“They wanted to do something to help active and veteran soldiers, as the VFW has always done,” Heather Salazar, Freedom Steps event director, said about the purpose for the grant money. “I thought the 5k could be a fun event for the entire community.”
Salazar, who has volunteered with the VFW for the last five years, said the grant and local sponsors helped with the event's start-up and organizational expenses. This meant that any funds raised at the event would go directly to supporting troops.
During the first year, 45 runners and walkers participated in Freedom Steps.
Last year, that number grew to 145.
“People are really excited about it,” Salazar said. “We’re reaching out, not just to military families, but also their loved ones.”
At each event, Salazar encounters a growing number of families with military loved ones overseas. She said the VFW invites them to share the names of the soldiers overseas so that care packages may be created for them.
According to Salazar, the VFW care packages can weigh from 25 – 70 pounds.
They contain many familiar items:
- Dental floss
- Puzzle books
- Beef jerky
“Or as we like to call it: a taste of home,” Salazar said.
Participants and spectators for the Freedom Steps event are encouraged to bring such items with them for donation. (See attached brochure for more items.)
The event will also include a 10:15 a.m. welcome and singing of the national anthem, appearances by military personnel, entertainment and an ending ceremony, with the winners of the running portion announced by noon.
After the Freedom Steps event, participants and spectators are encouraged to make their way along Easton Road for another VFW-led event—one not seen in Willow Grove since 2001.
The Loyalty Day Parade returns to Willow Grove
Salazar, a 2003 graduate of Upper Moreland High School, recalls sitting along Easton Road in Willow Grove as a little girl, watching fire trucks, parade floats and marching bands go by in the once popular Loyalty Day Parade.
“I’m really glad to see it come back, and glad to be a part of it,” she said.
Salazar also sits on the Willow Grove VFW Loyalty Day Parade committee, which is organizing the May 1 parade.
According to parade committee co-chair Roger Myers, Loyalty Day is a relatively unknown legal holiday, officially recognized in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower to promote patriotism.
Myers, who served in the United States Air Force in the late 1960s, said that VFW posts across the nation advocate the holiday by holding public ceremonies or parades.
The Loyalty Day parade in Willow Grove started in 1991 to welcome home troops returning from the Gulf War.
According to Myers, at the pinnacle of the parade’s popularity, nearly 4,000 American flags were given away to spectators. The national VFW also recognized the parade as the best one in the state, and the second-best in the nation.
“We tried to encourage, God, country and patriotism,” he said.
However, by 2001, the VFW noticed there were more participants in the parade than there were spectators.
He attributed the decline in the parade’s popularity to many factors, including younger families moving out of Willow Grove.
Then, in 2010, Upper Moreland Township commissioned a steering committee to organize the .
Myers, who is part of the steering committee, said that members were asked to come up with ideas for the celebration, which lasts from April to June.
“I thought, what is the best way [the VFW] could celebrate the 300?” Myers recalled. “Some people there asked if we could get the parade back.”
As a result, the Tri-Centennial Commission has labeled the Loyalty Day parade as the first major event of the Willow Grove 300 celebration.
The parade will start at the Regency Square Shopping Center parking lot at 2 p.m., and follow Easton Road to the.
Easton Road is expected to be closed for the parade from 1:45 to 3:45 p.m.
The parade's theme is “300 Years … And Still Going Strong,” and will feature hundreds of parade participants, representing 70 groups and organizations.
According to parade committee co-chair and president of the Willow Grove VFW home association Ralph Storti, most organizations in the parade have participated in past Willow Grove Loyalty Day parades.
One such organization is the popular LuLu Shriners, whose return was made possible by a donation from Shriner member Dave Caddick, owner of Caddick Construction Company in Ambler.
Some familiar Willow Grove faces will be seen in the parade:
- The Kiwanis Club of Old York Road
- Rotary Club of Willow Grove
- Willow Grove Lions Club
- The Upper Moreland Township Commissioners
- The Upper Moreland School Board
- St. David’s School Band
- Second Alarmers Rescue Squad
- Willow Grove Volunteer Firefighters
- Upper Moreland Police Department
- The Reilly Raiders Senior Drum and Bugle Band
Other parade participants hail from beyond Willow Grove, and include:
- The Willow Grove Volunteer Fire Company of Salem County, NJ
- The Greater Kensington, Greater Overbrook and Ferko string bands
- The parade’s grand marshal, Brigadier General Jerry Beck
- Mid-Atlantic PA Air National Guard Band
- Sons of Armageddon Motorcycle Club
- The Corvette Club of Delaware
- Girl Scouts of Southeastern PA
- Horsham VFW Post 9788
Storti gave credit to the volunteers that will help keep the parade going smoothly, such as Upper Moreland high and middle school students, who will guide participants at the parade start; station coordinators, who will direct participants as they enter the parade from Russel, Madison and Lawnton roads along Easton Road; and Bux-Mont Transportation, which will provide services to participants after the parade.
A reviewing stage will be set up by Weinrich’s Bakery, located near Easton and York roads, where information about parade participants will be announced as they pass by.
At 2:30 p.m., a special ceremony will also take place at the stage, honoring Upper Moreland Township police officer Lt. Carl Robinson with the Willow Grove VFW distinguished Public Services Award.
“The VFW is really excited about the parade this year,” Storti said. “We can feel the patriotism.”
After the parade, the Willow Grove VFW, located at 305 W. Moreland Road, will hold an open house from 4 to 5 p.m.
Participants and spectators for Freedom Steps are asked to park at the business lot across the street from Masons Mill Park. Event organizers will be on hand for further directions.
Preregistration can be made by visiting www.active.com by April 30 at 10 p.m.
For more information about the parade or the following VFW Open House, call 215-659-4782.