Rebirth of a Village

By James Buckley   |   July 12, 2018
It wasn't just "Montecito Strong," it was "Montecito Great!" down San Ysidro Road on July 4

This year’s Montecito Association (MA) Village Fourth Parade & Celebration was the biggest, baddest, boldest parade in Montecito history. Everybody participated: from California Highway Patrol, SB County Sheriff, SB County Fire, Montecito Fire, Boy Scouts, to all the schools, all the organizations, all the groups that matter to Montecito and care about Montecito.

Montecito’s Village Fourth has four elements designed to win the hearts of the coldest among us:

1) The parade route is amusingly (and blessedly) short, traveling as it does from Upper Manning Park down San Ysidro Road to Santa Rosa. End. The distance wouldn’t qualify as a par five at any self-respecting golf course.

2) The parade itself is refreshingly brisk. Over before you know it.

3) It’s crammed with friends and neighbors and is surprisingly (thankfully) bereft of politics (though politicians – being politicians – are omnipresent).

4) The day begins with food (breakfast at the Montecito Fire Station) and ends with food (hot dogs, ice cream, the usual 4th of July noshes in Lower Manning Park).

Additionally, no one pretends to “march,” and virtually everyone is eligible to enter (except Maxi Decker and her mini-horses).

This year’s Village Fourth Parade was dedicated to first responders; Sissy Taran and her “Heroes” were voted this year’s “Patriotic” group; Sissy and her team win virtually every year, so it comes as no surprise
Rescue Dogs and their minders marched too
An hour before the parade began, San Ysidro Road looked like an urban street fair

The Village Fourth Parade & Celebration started as a small affair back in 1996; at the time of that first parade (Jonathan Winters was our first parade marshal), we failed to get permission to march down San Ysidro Road, so participants took off out of Upper Manning Park onto School House Road, down to Montecito Union’s back parking lot, then made a 90-degree left turn through MUS, across San Ysidro, and down Santa Rosa to Lower Manning, where hot dogs, hydroponic lettuce, and games for kids prevailed. There had been no money budgeted for the event, so MA parade committee head Diane Pannkuk (the whole thing was her idea) paid for what was needed out of her own checkbook, hoping to be reimbursed (she was). 

The second year came with its own set of blockages, including the right to use San Ysidro Road, which still hadn’t been approved by the SB Board of Supervisors. The then-First District supervisor, the late Naomi Schwartz, gave us her “permission” to march down San Ysidro and all was well. 

From that humble beginning, the event has become Montecito’s largest yearly gathering by far. It is now a total community affair. This year, San Ysidro Road was completely blocked off to traffic on parade day from 10:30 am until well after noon. And, this year in particular, since the focus was on “first responders,” all of Montecito seemed to have turned out. There were more children than ever – way more children – and more people, both participants and onlookers, than ever too. And, because San Ysidro was closed to traffic early, the whole thing looked more like an urban street fair than a parade down a semi-rural byway.

Montecito Fire Department personnel, along with wives, husbands, kids, and other family members marched in full force, led by chief Chip Hickman, and received the biggest applause as they “marched” by; first responders came in a close second.

People were indeed celebrating; many set up chairs, seats, and chaise lounges on the berms on both sides of San Ysidro long before parade time. Going back to that first event in 1996, people who were involved in that, were involved in Montecito. Over the past decade or so, however, Montecito seemed to have become – or was well on its way to becoming – a village of visitors rather than a community of residents. This year’s turnout, perhaps as many as 4,000 strong, helped to resuscitate the village Montecito had been not that long ago. 

Parade master Mindy Denson with the Bryan Titus Trio (from left): Jeff Krancler, Mindy, Bryan Titus, and Dustin Janson
Music Academy of the West (MAW) chief executive and CEO, Scott Reed (left) announced that the Music Academy’s summer season was being dedicated to the Montecito community, and that the Music Academy’s participation in the Village Fourth was going to become “a regular thing” going forward. Gifted and powerful MAW vocalist Taylor Haines sang the national anthem with force and melodious perfection, bringing tears to the eyes of many. With them is longtime Montecito parade organizer Dana Newquist (right).
All Montecito schools, including Laguna Blanca, Mt. Carmel, YMCA Pre-School, Montecito Union, Cold Spring, El Montecito, and Crane Country Day School, pitched in this year

Participants and onlookers reveled in the freshly arrived sunshine, the pace of rebuilding and reconstruction, the open roads, the diminution of threat, the company of friends and neighbors. Most seemed to have put aside those terrible weeks of December and January, when days were filled with fire threat and falling ash, and later mud, debris, funerals, memorials, hospital visits, searches for victims, raising money for those who’d lost relatives, homes, pets, or any number of things.

It could be said, and will be written (by me), that while the rest of the country was celebrating the birth of a nation on July 4, 2018, Montecito was celebrating the rebirth of a village. You could feel the warmth; there were no fake smiles. 

For the record, parade winners included: “Family and Kids Walking” from Our Lady of Mount Carmel being voted “Cutest”; winning “Parade Vehicle” was “Freedom + Liberty Side by Side” by Gavin Roy in a WWII motorcycle with sidecar;

“Montecito Spirit” was Melinda Werner “We’re the Kids of America”;

“Patriotic” was Sissy Taran in “Heroes of Montecito”;

“Musical” was Dana Newquist and his 1922 Kissell Circus truck featuring a genuine calliope.

Other incidentals include first responders having been treated to lunch by The Coeta Barker Foundation (thanks to Dana Newquist). The national anthem was sung after the parade by Music Academy vocalist Taylor Haines, and this year’s band was the Bryan Titus Trio, whose post-modern barn-dance effort, kicked off by an excellent version of John Denver’s “Country Roads”, thrilled and exceeded expectations. Scott Topper‘s photo booth was a welcome addition, and Mindy Denson‘s expert supervisorial machinations from start to finish kept everything moving swiftly and smoothly.

See you next year?!


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