July 4 celebrations and parade returns in a Big Way to the island

Thunderous jets, blaring trumpets and booming fireworks are just some of the ways Key Biscayne residents and visitors have celebrated America's birthday for more than half a century.

It's where an elegant "Mayberry" meets the Miami Metropolis, in one of America's largest melting pots of cultural nationalities, a perfect place for citizens to celebrate patriotism, freedom and independence.

"It's such a tradition with the community," said Rudy Leschhorn, a member of the 4th of July Parade Committee for 15 years. "It's been going on 63 years now and still, to this day, people from the outside (of the island) want to come and participate. It's so unique to have such a big city like Miami next door and still have a Small Town America celebration like we do."

More than a quarter of America's 246 birthdays will now have been celebrated on Crandon Boulevard, whether it was simply a few people walking or riding bikes with red, white and blue party favors, or the time when President Richard Nixon was greeting kids on the street, to the nearly two-hour showcase it has become with decorated floats, bands (even one from Baltimore), public officials, and grilled burgers and hot dogs.

One of the popular attendees has been Federico Padovan, who will turn 86 this summer but still has the enthusiasm of a teenager when it comes to decorating bicycles, floats and vehicles that have resulted in a wall full of trophies.

He was 6 years old, living in Italy, when World War II broke out, so he understands what patriotism means, even after moving to Uruguay with his parents six years later and learning to speak fluent Spanish. Most importantly, he's translated his patriotic love for America to his kids, Paola and Fredy, who will be visiting from the Orlando area.

"I make them understand that being patriotic is for our soul for the Fourth of July," he said, while showing off the two-month effort he's put into decorating one of his motorized bikes, which occupies a large area of the living room. "People go to die (for our country). My opinion, creativity is the best (thing I can do now), and I did it on a bicycle."

Padovan has been a movie set designer, sports car builder, businessman, tennis player, distance runner and a journalist, along a long and impressive list of careers and hobbies. One of his books, "El Tiempo sin Querer Paso" (Time has Passed Unintentionally) displays his life and times, and many photos from Key Biscayne, and is available in Apple's iBooks library.

July 4 celebrations and parade returns in a Big Way to the island

His Fourth of July creativity has been welcomed by many, who can't wait to see his latest contribution. He calls the 35-foot float he once designed for the Key Biscayne Yacht Club, called "Key Biscayne: The Bridge to the Americas," his best effort.

And, he's not slowing down, anticipating July 4 like kids do for Christmas morning.

"It's the most patriotic event I could do and get my children involved with," Padovan said.

Thanks to the efforts of other 4th of July Parade Committee members, such as leader Rafael Momene; "woman of all hats" Michele Estevez; and Austin Tellam -- who for the seventh time will be the Master of Ceremonies in his easy to distinguish patriotic garb, face paint and oversized hat -- the event remains the longest-running parade in South Florida.

“It started with just a couple people on bicycles in traditional costumes,” said Tellam, one of the island's longtime "Key Rats" who helps keep the tradition going.

Those in the parade line up on Fernwood Road, and it's a daunting task for Estevez, who must fit floats, bands, vehicles and tricycles into the proper semblance of order for the parade judges. This year's panel will include Liz Yerian, the first woman to be a judge. Her husband, Art, the former manager at the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, passed away in January.

This year's grand marshal will be Sally Brody, one of the most beloved members of the community. Her husband, Cliff, a former Village Vice Mayor and whose efforts convinced residents to approve their own Fire-Rescue department, passed away at age 82, also in January. See page XX.

Two Mako F-16 single-seat jets from Homestead Air Force Base will soar over the island at just about 11 a.m. to begin the festivities. They're not quite the "Top Gun" Navy jets in the Tom Cruise movies, but loud enough.

"We hope they fly over Crandon," Estevez said, laughing. "Sometimes they fly over Fernwood because they see everyone all lined up, and sometimes they've flown over the beach."

Leschhorn said putting it all together as part of a team all these years has been a blast.

"I've been able to amass a bunch of photographs from years past and it shows how much it has grown and how much tradition has been kept," said Leschhorn, a producer for TV commercials in the Hispanic market, such as Telemundo and Univision.

"From the late '60s and early '70s, it was really cool, very patriotic, and still to this day."

The July heat also plays a role. "It's a very tough day to be dressed up but, absolutely, people do it," he said.

Fireworks returning in a big way 

This year, fireworks at sunset, launched from a barge a couple miles behind the Beach Club, return after a couple years off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fireworks can be seen from Miami and afar, but at the beach is where you'll hear the accompanying patriotic music synced with the show from WDNA 89.9 FM radio.

The independent parade committee, always finding ways to fund the parade and insurance, recently held its annual charity event at the Beach Club when the Tropical Storm watch (and later warning) was in effect.

"It got to the point, 'Do we do it, or we don't?' We figured if it doesn't work out, we'll make a hurricane party out of it," Leschhorn said, laughing. "We had fairly decent weather until about 10, and we got a lot more people than we expected to. When the food runs out, you know you've had a good party!"

The rain eventually fell ... as much as 7 inches that night.

"Some people had to swim to get home," Leschhorn said, jokingly.

It's that type of commitment from patriotic citizens who have made the Fourth of July a Star-Spangled spectacle on Key Biscayne.

"It gets packed. Last year, we had a full-blown parade, but not a lot of concessions because of (social) distancing," Leschhorn said. "But we had a helluva turnout. A lot of people are over it and they just want to get out."

Freebies from the Rotary Club

The Rotary Club of Key Biscayne also is a big player on July 4 with its red-hot grill for the Americana picnic on the Village Green. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fresh-squeezed lemonade and watermelon are the typical offerings, as well as this year’s debut of the Liberty Empanadas.

"And a lot of fun -- the fun is for free," said incoming Rotary Club president Patricia Romano, who also was president 10 years ago. "It's very affordable to be out with the community."

Festival T-shirts also are being sold at http://www.kb4.org (where more information is available), and usually at the Yacht Club.

The parade schedule

The nearly mile-long patriotic procession begins at 11 a.m. at the corner of Crandon Boulevard and Harbor Drive, and heads toward Cape Florida to the end of Village Green Park, looping into West Enid Drive. There will be a stage in front of the Village Green.

Among the entertaining parade entrants are the popular stilt-walkers, marching bands from various schools, vintage cars, and the Junkaroo Bahamian band that typically provides a special ending to the parade.

"Junkaroo ... they always get to me," Leschhorn said. "Those guys really perform, they're dancing, really colorful people. The Bahamas is our neighbor."

Because it is an election year, expect to see plenty of candidates from across the county in the parade.

July 4 celebrations and parade returns in a Big Way to the island

"We always have more (entries) because they like to show off their faces," Romano said, tongue-in-cheek.

Meanwhile, Padovan will continue to put the finishing touches on his bike, which has a decoration kids will love.

"This is the most important day of the year in Key Biscayne, where we also help others have fun," he said. "It's part of my contribution to America, the best country in the world."

 

 

 

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