PUBLISHED: 2:34 PM on Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Juneau, Douglas to hold Fourth of July celebrations

  Parade grand marshal, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh
Juneau is a very diverse community, filled with people of different backgrounds, different cultures, and definitely, different opinions. But each year on the Fourth of July, thousands of these people come together to crowd the streets of Juneau and Douglas to celebrate the fact that though we are different, we all share a love of this country and the freedoms that living in it brings.

"Freedom of Speech" is the theme of this year's parade in Juneau, which is expected to attract between 80 and 100 groups of participants, and throngs of excited spectators. "People in the community offer suggestions each year about what the theme should be, and the committee picks the one that they think is best," explained Gerald Dorsher, who has been involved with Juneau's Fourth of July parade for more than 25 years. "We felt that 'freedom of speech' was a particularly good theme, especially with the current conditions in the world."

The parade's grand marshal, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh, agrees that the concept is a strong one. "I am very honored to have been chosen as the grand marshal, particularly considering the theme this year," he said. "Freedom of speech thrives at the University; it is a forum where people can openly discuss ideas, and everyone can bring their ideas to the table. Freedom of speech advances knowledge, and we protect it highly."

The parade, which will begin on Egan Drive at 11 a.m., will feature hundreds of floats and costumes designed to bring the theme to life. "While the entire parade is just great, I think the most amazing thing is how the people of Juneau come up with ideas that coincide with the theme," said Dorsher. "To me, that's really the high point."

  Stroller White Pipes & Drums put some plaid in the parade.
Chancellor Pugh says that he enjoys everything about the parade, which he and his family have missed only once since moving to Juneau in 1978. "We share a cabin in Gustavus, and one year we decided to spend the Fourth of July over there," he laughed. "Our children were not happy; they wanted to be here for the Juneau parade."

Pugh says that he has often participated in the event over the years, representing different groups. "My family has been in the parade representing the St. Ann's Daycare Center, and I've also marched for political causes and candidates," he said. "My daughter and her friend have dressed up as clowns and roller-skated through the parade."

  Crutches are no obstacle when it comes to one of the tastiest part of the Fourth of July celebration if you ask kids: The candy!
"What I like best is that there are so many different people involved in the parade, from the Filipino groups, to the Native groups, to the Corgi dog owner's group," he added. "It's a very fun day, and it's always very interesting."

After the Juneau parade winds its way around downtown, those people who want to be in the Douglas parade will head over the bridge to join in the festivities there, which begin at 2 p.m. Long-time Alaskans Fred and Jirdes Baxter will serve as the Douglas parade's grand marshals.

  The 2004 float saluting the memory of late Fourth of July grande dame Bev Dorsher.
"I think we just have to sit in the car and wave and smile pretty," laughed Jirdes, who was born in Nome and raised in Juneau. "I don't think it involves too much work."

Jirdes was recently honored in both Anchorage and Nome for being the last living survivor of the 1925 diphtheria epidemic. "I was only 11 months old, so I only know what my mother told me about it," she said of the event, in which a sled dog team mushed hundreds of miles carrying serum from Nenana to the ailing community. That journey is now immortalized by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Jirdes husband, Fred, moved to Alaska in 1942 and worked at Pan American Airways before taking a state position with the Department of Labor. Jirdes also worked for the state in the Division of Retirement and Benefits.

Retired since 1983, the couple is looking forward to participating in this year's parade. "We always go to the parade, and I especially love the bands-I don't think there's enough band music," said Jirdes. "I also think the Filipino group is really good. And it's just fun to see all of the little kids doing their thing."