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Heroes on parade

John Hart
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Expect the usual at Sunday’s 10th annual Joe Cain Procession in Nevada City with one exception – extra doses of patriotism.

There will be the usual tossing of beads, trinkets, candy, wooden nickels and Moon Pies during the parade down Broad Street; and masked societies, marching bands and representatives of nonprofit organizations.



Spectators will again see parade favorites, including the Merry Widows Society, Fife and Drum Corps, Gold Country German American Club and Cousin Jack and Jenny. Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 535 will again serve as the color guard.




The procession’s stars, though, will most likely be grand marshals New York City firemen Steve Merenda and Joe Torrillo. The firefighters rescued victims at the Twin Towers during the terrorist attack on Sept. 11.

“It took us (board members) all of maybe 10 minutes to decide who to honor,” said Curt Colagross, Joe Cain Procession co-founder and treasurer of the Joe Cain Society of California, the nonprofit association that sponsors this weekend’s activities. “Steve and Joe lost some 341 brothers. Our feeling is the kids today need some real heroes.”

Colagross, who portrays Cain every year, is a former captain with the Berkeley Fire Department. Cain was also a firefighter.

“We were originally going to bring Steve and Joe out Friday night to Sunday, but everybody here wanted to meet them,” Colagross said, “so we’re bringing them out Wednesday to Tuesday.”

Before the procession, the grand marshals hope to meet as many Nevada County residents as possible during their first trip here.

They will be guests this morning of area retired and working firefighters who meet bimonthly at the Breakfast Club, and will be featured this afternoon in an assembly at Deer Creek School.

Merenda and Torrillo will be honored Friday at a 4:30 p.m. public reception at Nevada City City Hall, 317 Broad St., sponsored by The Union.

The marshals will also attend the masquerade ball Saturday. In between engagements, they will hang out in downtown Nevada City.

Colagross’ pride in this year’s Joe Cain activities doesn’t stop with the firefighters’ gallant actions at the World Trade Center. He is equally proud of his Nevada County neighbors.

“Wait till you hear this: Vern Taylor (Nevada City’s public works director) said that with these guys coming here, we have to do more,” Colagross said. “So Vern’s coming early on his own time Sunday to put up 100-plus American flags on lamp posts.”

Deer Creek School students will lead the grand marshals during the procession. “The students will be waving American flags and wearing red, white and blue,” Colagross said.

During the Joe Cain festivities, elaborately costumed partiers appear downtown all weekend long.

This year’s theme is “Joe Cain Meets the Wizard of Oz,” which provides for lots of costume options for children and adults, according to Colagross.

Several store fronts in Nevada City are decorated with Mardi Gras colors, decorations and ruby slippers.

Grass Valley stores have also caught Mardi Gras fever. Stores, including Longs and Ben Franklin, sell Mardi Gras items such as confetti, plates, the obligatory colorful bead necklaces and Mardi Gras feathers.

“We’ve been selling lots of masks and beads since right after New Year’s,” said Sheila Coleman, the party supplies department head at Ben Franklin. “We’ve sold thousands of beads. Our sales are bigger than last year’s.”

Just a few tickets are left for the eighth annual Masquerade Ball from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday at Miners Foundry Cultural Center. The Gold Country Cajun Band returns for the third consecutive year to perform traditional Cajun dance tunes, Creole zydeco and R&B.

Admission is $25. Tickets are at the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. The ball is for ages 21 and over.

Sunday’s procession lasts for 90 minutes and starts at 2 p.m., rain or shine.

A viewing area for disabled spectators will be on Broad Street next to the New York Hotel. Parking for the disabled will be at the nearby city parking lot on Commercial Street.

Unlike other annual parades in Nevada City, there is no shuttle service available from Rood Administrative Center to downtown Nevada City. Consider car-pooling and arriving early to find parking spaces near downtown.

Saturday’s Masquerade Ball and Sunday’s Joe Cain Procession are not just for fun.

The events also raise money and pledge volunteer hours for nonprofits chosen by the society’s board of directors and the 12 individual masked societies.

The societies are the social groups or clubs of the Joe Cain Society of California, which raises thousands of dollars throughout the year for nonprofits of their choice. Last year, they raised about $8,000 and 1,200 hours in volunteer labor, Colagross said.

This year’s procession should raise even more funds, he said, because there are more entries.

Each society donates money through annual dues and fund-raisers. After all the weekend’s expenses are paid, the directors decide which charities receive the proceeds.

Rain or shine, procession draws plenty of watchers

It’s often raining, snowing or hailing that day.

Unless you arrive an hour early to stake out your claim, it’s hard to get a good spot to watch the parade.

But thousands – 8,000 by Joe Cain Society of California estimates – attended last year’s Joe Cain Procession.

Why do these spectators return each year?

“It’s fun,” said Sheila Coleman, Ben Franklin’s party supplies department head, who arrives every year with her family and friends an hour before the parade to find a good spot.

She doesn’t care if it’s cold. “I just go on the sunny side,” Coleman said Monday.

Rough and Ready’s Gary Hammer stopped for a quick breakfast Monday at Moore’s in Nevada City before hitting Sisters Consignment Boutique a few doors down for costume props.

Attending the eighth annual masquerade ball for the first time, Hammer will be the Straw Man and his girlfriend the Wicked Witch of the West.

Hammer has attended the procession almost every year.

“I like to see the neat costumes, everyone in the parade,” said Hammer, who hesitated a few seconds before giving away his favorite spot to watch the procession.

“The top of Broad Street has the best view. You don’t miss anything because it all starts there,” he said. “Before the parade, you see the ceremony of the Merry Widows with all their regalia. That’s cool.”

Don’t ask Curt Colagross, an event co-founder, why the procession attracts thousands to the streets of downtown Nevada City – unless you don’t mind a biased account.

“Why, it’s probably better than even Halloween,” he said. “Here you get beads and Moon Pies, besides candy.”

Know and Go

WHAT: 10th annual Joe Cain Procession

WHEN: Sunday at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Broad Street, downtown Nevada City

ADMISSION: Free

INFORMATION: 265-2692

WHAT: Eighth annual masquerade ball

WHEN: Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight

WHERE: Miners Foundry Cultural Center, 325 Spring St., Nevada City

ADMISSION: $25

INFORMATION: 265-2692


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