An Algona tradition

ALGONA – Colleen Hegarty knows what it’s like to grow up Irish.

The Grand Marshall for this year’s Algona St. Patrick’s Day parade can trace her roots back to her great-great-grandparents David and Mary Hegarty, who came to America from Rath Cormick, Ireland in 1847.

“Growing up Irish we always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day,” she said. “I used to do an Irish jig for my father. Mind you, I was just as uncoordinated without two bad knees as I am now. It so delighted him to watch me at least try.”

She’s always worn green hats, and sometimes even green hair, for the Irish celebration, so it was easy to look festive for the part.

“It was hard to know what to wear, I have all this stuff,” she said. “Silly hats and you name it.”

She also inherited an Irish kindness, said Mary Straub Lavelle, one of the Daughters of St. Patrick and a member of the committee that chose Hegarty.

“She’s so nice to everybody. She has a reputation around Algona for always being kind,” Straub Lavelle said. “She’s always got a smile on her face, and a story for everybody. That’s probably the Irish in her.”

She visits people at the nursing home every day, Straub Lavelle said. She also cared for her disabled brother for many years, never complaining.

“They said the reason he lived was because someone took care of him,” she said. “She would bring him to the parade every year and park the van so he could see.”

The committee’s vote for Hegarty was unanimous.

“I was never so honored in my life, I think,” said Hegarty. “There’s been so many fantastic grand marshals before me, some of them have touched my life so much, that I just kind of felt like they were with me today.”

The 31st annual parade brought out families eager to celebrate their heritage, marching behind banners marked McCall, Murphy and McGuire.

Stephen McCall drew some stares as he shivered in the cold, wearing a bright green dress and tights.

“I wanted to do something different,” he said. “And I like to make people laugh.”

James Murphy pulled his daughters Avah and Ellah in a wagon as he marched with the rest of his clan, including his father Pat Murphy, a first-generation Irish American.

“It’s just something about the sentiment of St Patrick’s day that makes you want to get together with family and have a beer or two,” James Murphy said.

Michael Lavelle wore a hat with the Irish flag. He decided at the last minute to walk in the parade carrying a Leprechaun’s pot of golden ale.

“I’m 100 percent Irish,” he said. “In Ireland (St. Patrick’s Day) it’s a chance to go to church quietly and pray, but here it’s a celebration of Irish Americans.”

The parade is a different design from celebrations in other towns, said Straub Lavelle.

“There are no floats, no politicians and no bands,” she said. “Just people walking.”

The founders designed it that way. That’s why, she said, the parade gets over so quickly and the participants can gather at Pep’s for a gathering with green beer, corned beef and Irish stew.