Photos by Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Rachel Hurst hands her son Benjamin, 4, a beach ball to throw to the crowd from the Hawaiian-themed Juneau Urgent Care float during the July 4 parade in downtown Juneau. Below, Wayne Fu Smallwood, who is Tlingit and was among about 30 Alaska Native veterans on a float that won the Most Alaskan theme in the parade, says Independence Day for him this year remains a time to celebrate the traditional culture of his people going back thousands of years.

Photos by Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Rachel Hurst hands her son Benjamin, 4, a beach ball to throw to the crowd from the Hawaiian-themed Juneau Urgent Care float during the July 4 parade in downtown Juneau. Below, Wayne Fu Smallwood, who is Tlingit and was among about 30 Alaska Native veterans on a float that won the Most Alaskan theme in the parade, says Independence Day for him this year remains a time to celebrate the traditional culture of his people going back thousands of years.

Juneau, the state of the union is festive

Melting pot of states, cultures and colors join in healthy unity for July 4 parade in unique times.

This article has been updated to reflect that Brian Weed is a retired correctional officer, not a retired police officer.

Sandra Lujan’s inspiration for the best float in this year’s Juneau July 4 parade is truly a state of the union statement befitting unusual times.

“It’s a tropical Hawaiian theme celebrating our wonderful people in Juneau,” the recent Texas transplant said.

A truck-towed trailer float featuring a towering inflatable Uncle Sam, palm tree, pirates, beach rock music and Indigenous adornment from The Aloha State probably didn’t make the crowd of thousands immediately think of what aspects of Juneau were part of their Independence Day celebration. But Lujan, who moved from the Dallas/Fort Worth area eight months ago to become the office manager at Juneau Urgent Care, said the highlights of her new hometown were indeed elements of the design she came up with two months ago.

“It just came to mind because of all the mountains…and of course all the trees,” she said. Also, she added, “here it’s much more of a fun community.”

While Lujan’s float design won best overall among about an estimated 30 in the parade, there were plenty of other eye-grabbers. The Glacier Swim Club offered a literal river of blessings from its not-entirely-self-contained trailer pool, a live jazz and standards band just ahead of the Hawaiians-for-a-day raised the heat on a sun-soaked day even more, and the Most Alaskan theme was the large float occupied by about 30 Alaska Native Veterans.

Wayne Fu Smallwood, who is Tlingit and was wearing regalia in the 70-plus degree heat, said his reasons for celebrating the country’s birthday this year remain the same as during more traditional times.

“Native rights, our right to carry on our culture and everything,” he said, “We have to continue our culture and that’s one way to do it, be in the parade and show everybody.”

Wayne Fu Smallwood, who is Tlingit and was among about 30 Alaska Native Veterans on a float that won the Most Alaskan theme in the July 4 parade, says Independence Day for him this year remains a time to celebrate the traditional culture of his people going back thousands of years. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Wayne Fu Smallwood, who is Tlingit and was among about 30 Alaska Native Veterans on a float that won the Most Alaskan theme in the July 4 parade, says Independence Day for him this year remains a time to celebrate the traditional culture of his people going back thousands of years. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The grand marshals of this year’s parade were Brian Weed, a retired correctional officer and current part-time weatherman at Juneau International Airport who is also the founder of the hiking group Juneau’s Hidden History; and Amy Dressel, a doctor involved in multiple local children’s groups as well as the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

“I think this community has pulled together very well because of COVID-19,” Dressel said when asked what she is celebrating this year. “It is a hard year, I think it’s a good time for a celebration.”

Getting ready to roll meant a bit of extra sweat for the roughly dozen urgent care staff and friends helping Lujan with preparations during the final minutes before the parade’s 11 a.m. start.

For Randy Garcia, it was making sure all was shipshape with his full-body plastic bald eagle costume that was both new to the clinic’s float collection and something of an outlier among the rest of the Aloha State adornments. He said he was also a longtime Texas resident, but as a traveling nurse immediately got the desire to spread his wings when he saw openings in Juneau, having seen it in a number of movies, TV shows and other ways from afar.

“I’ll be here for a little while to help take care of the community, that’s for sure,” he said.

[Summer is in full swing, but knighttime came early in Douglas]

Being from that far down south also meant Garcia was more accustomed to the heat than perhaps the actual native bird species flapping about during the day. Plus the designers were kind enough to include a portable fan and ventilation system.

“There is an exhaust back here,” he explained, pointing to a small opening in the vicinity of his rump. “It is hot, but not unbearable.”

Speaking of pumps, that also ended up being an item of mercy when it came to inflating the 1,000 beach balls clinic staff distributed during the parade.

“We did 400 manually and then we got a pump,” Garcia said.

In addition to the beach balls, the float and a trailing truck were stacked with boxes containing 2,000 small plastic bags filled with band-aids, balloons — and yet more candy for youths whose bags were already sagging heavily with salt water toffees and melted chocolate by the time the float reached them.

“Most people see us not on their best day, so we’d like to give them a nice experience,” said Alicia McGuire, who has worked at the clinic and been in the parade for the past years, explaining their contribution to the diet of the day that wasn’t exactly doctor prescribed.

Her job title is usually clinic administrator, except on this particular day.

“I just had ACL surgery so distributor of bags is my title this year,” McGuire said from the back of the trailer as it got ready to pull out onto Egan Drive near Overstreet Park at 11:24 a.m.

A towering inflatable Uncle Sam “waves” to the crowd from the Hawaiian-themed Juneau Urgent Care float that was won the Best of Parade award in this year’s downtown July 4 parade. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A towering inflatable Uncle Sam “waves” to the crowd from the Hawaiian-themed Juneau Urgent Care float that was won the Best of Parade award in this year’s downtown July 4 parade. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

She and three other helpers immediately began the careful balancing act of handing out bags and balls to the helpers trailing behind on foot, wanting to satisfy the waves of wavers as the float slowly passed while still keeping enough for the full parade route through downtown as well as the subsequent parade in Douglas.

“Two thousand bags sounds like a lot,” McGuire said. “But no matter how many we make we always run out.”

Sure enough, as the float turned the corner at the Marine Park garage McGuire gave a last large cluster of bags to each of her helpers.

“This is the last of the bags, at least for this one,” she said. “Great job.”

But by then the crowd along the sidewalks was considerably thinner, as the spectators were also moving on to their next holiday doings.

“There’s nobody on this side to wave to,” said Marie Beierly, who issues permits for National Marine Fisheries and volunteered to be aboard the float to help her friends.

The float passed Centennial Hall at 12:24 p.m., exactly an hour after its start, bringing a near end to the first part of their journey. But McGuire said there was no problem getting recharged for the second part.

“The Douglas parade is always easier,” she said. “We’ve got more space and we reorganize.”

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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