Every fest, 'parade neighbors’ gather

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Tom Heeke of Celestine, left, Mary Carolyn Hopf of Jasper and her husband, John, laughed and called to people they know in the Strassenfest parade on Sunday. The Heekes and the Hopfs celebrated 25 years of watching the parade next to each other on Jackson Street, a tradition that started when the first grandchildren in both families were born.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — The Heeke and Hopf families are hard to miss along the Jasper Strassenfest parade route.

With eight pop-up canopies and 60-plus people, they take up more than half a block along Jackson Street by the post office. And they’re loud.

“God bless the mayor!” Tom Heeke hollers at Mayor Terry Seitz as he passes the group on Sunday afternoon.

“Are you throwing out diamonds?” Mary Carolyn Hopf yells to the Disinger Jewelers van as it rolls by, her hands extended eagerly.

“Hey! You lost your baby!” Leonard Heeke, Tom’s father, jokingly informs a woman pushing an empty stroller.

“Frankie! Frankie! Frankie!” the group chants as Francis Ebenkamp, a well-known Jasper High School fan famous for his “All right, OK” cheer, passes in a convertible.

The Leonard and Mary Heeke family of Celestine and the John and Mary Carolyn Hopf family of Jasper have been what they call “parade neighbors” for 25 years. While both families had attended the parade for years before, they wound up next to each other one miserably hot summer.

“Our two daughters were pregnant at the time and were sitting in the sun,” John said. The Heekes “had a new baby and had a canopy and insisted our daughters sit in the shade.”

The families have set up next to each other since and always in the same spot by the post office.

This year, some family members were up at 4:30 a.m. to get out and lay claim to their spot.

“We’ll come the night before and live here overnight if we have to,” Mary Carolyn said. “We have to stake it out earlier and earlier each year.”

A few members of the group stay in place all day long, chatting among themselves and saying hello to people they know that happen to walk by. By lunchtime, their numbers swell as others join in preparation for the parade.

It’s the one time a year the families see each other.

“You get to know the kids and it’s our chance each year to get updated on what everyone’s been up to,” said Tom, who was accompanied by his wife, Bernadette, and three children, son-in-law and son’s girlfriend. “This is our Strassenfest family.”

Over the years, both families have turned the parade into a sort of combined family reunion with extended family members and friends. On Sunday, both families had four generations present under the canopies.

“It’s a tradition,” Tom said. “We’ve done it so long it’s hard to break away from and we wouldn’t miss it for anything. The kids and grandkids look forward to this too.”

Throughout the parade, the families freely share the drinks and snacks they brought with them.
Children scramble to collect every piece of candy they can and John repeatedly digs out his Swiss Army Knife to cut open freeze pops for the group.

While they consider their parade spot pretty ideal, the families joked about asking the postmaster for a portable toilet next year to help accommodate the growing number of children.

“The kids have friends and they bring them to our tents too,” Leonard said.

At the end of the parade, after several loud blasts from a small cannon, it’s all hands on deck as the families immediately start folding up chairs, taking down the canopies and cleaning up the area.

While the Heekes and the Hopfs will head their separate ways, they’ll be back together again for next year’s parade.

“That’s the whole point of Strassenfest,” Tom said. “It’s about community and bringing people together. I guess this group is a good example.”

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.

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