URBANA – After weeks of planning and work, the big puffy dog was ready to roll.
He had only one problem: The sky poured down rain on that July Fourth morning, and the dog's body was covered in hundreds of tiny bits of paper on his Independence Day float – not exactly rainproof.
"It's kind of a bummer," said Ginger Passalacqua, the senior coordinator for client services and communications for the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
She, her husband and several of the staff at vet med spent about 30 hours putting the float together as a cheap, fun way to tell the community that they can get their pets' wellness exams and vaccinations at the hospital, only to see the parade canceled due to rain. "It was disappointing to have it go from garage to tarp to garage."
A little comfort to the staff, though: The float, designed by vet med staffer Kerry Helms and depicting a dog next to a stack of books with a giant stovepipe hat, took the President's Trophy in the parade-that-wasn't.
On July Fourth, parade coordinator Eileen Morris and the float judges trekked from float to plastic-covered float, getting soaked in the process. "They went around and looked at each one of them," Morris said.
The floats were judged on their artistic merits and how they followed the theme of "The Lasting Legacy of Lincoln," she said.
And on parade morning, the floats were ready to cruise down the streets of Champaign and Urbana, but for that untimely rain. "There was so much work done on them," Morris said.
For the MTD's float, Mike Chubb, Drew Bargmann and Amy Snyder, along with several others, put in about 20 hours of design and construction work, said Jan Kijowski, MTD marketing director.
"We arrived at the word 'freedom' because we believe very strongly that having public transportation creates freedom for people," Kijowski said. "We built the Lincoln Memorial – a mini version, of course – and then on the sides of the float, the back ... we had a Lincoln quote and then something about the MTD: 'MTD gives you freedom of mobility,' 'MTD gives you freedom to leave your car at home.'
The MTD group took home the Theme Trophy for their work.
The first-place float went to the group Life Is For Everyone. Myrna Buyno of Champaign, who has been creating floats for about 18 years, said she had plenty of help from volunteers. She said the group wanted to show that since Lincoln was against slavery, abortion is another form of taking away freedom.
Working at Curtis Orchard, they covered their wagon with signs, a flag thanking the military, statistics about abortions and Civil War deaths.
Despite the downpour, the teams found another way to show their Independence Day spirit.
"We went ahead and rolled down the parade route anyway," Kijowski said. "Occasionally we had to stop and pick up the (Memorial replica) columns that fell off."
The LIFE team plans to hold onto their float until next year, when Buyno hopes for a repeat of this year's theme "so everybody can see the messages, and Abe Lincoln can walk down the street, 'cause this is the Land of Lincoln."
Over at vet med on Tuesday, the float-builders staged an impromptu parade around their buildings.
"We decided that since there was a nice day and we needed a morale-booster, we actually dragged (the float) around the complex and threw candy at everyone who works here," Passalacqua said. "It was funny, because when we were almost done we actually (were joined in the parade) by the FedEx."