BATAVIA – Though no longer widely observed, Loyalty Day comes with a long history that’s steeped in tradition. Illinois marks the holiday on the first Sunday of May, and one of the largest observations in the state takes place in Batavia led by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1197.
“It’s not a well-known holiday, but observing it is a tradition we’re proud to maintain,” said Mike Breyne, VFW parade chairman and a Vietnam veteran who served with a U.S. Army air defense artillery unit in 1970-71.
When the parade tips off at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 5, it will mark the 39th year for the observance in Batavia. Breyne said some 70 organizations have signed up to participate. First observed in 1921 as Americanization Day, the holiday subsequently evolved into Loyalty Day in 1949. In July, 1958, Congress officially designated May 1 as the holiday. VFW Commander Alan Richards said Loyalty Day has always been “a celebration of our country and what it stands for and the rights we have as citizens.” It’s a way of showing respect for those who have fallen defending the freedoms U.S. citizens might enjoy every day, he said. . A familiar presence in the upcoming parade will be Jeff Schielke, mayor of Batavia for 32 years and a participant in the event nearly every year since his election.
“It represents a number of emotions and offers attendees a sense of pride for sacrifices by military men and women from our town,” Schielke said. “It’s a highly visible illustration of the commitment towards patriotism and love of country. And it renews our admiration for the proud history of our citizens stepping forward to serve in so many dangerous and challenging fronts.”
Joining the mayor will be a number of local aldermen, representatives of the police and fire departments, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Breyne expects to lineup to feature two bands, including a drum and bugle corps from Villa Park as well as representation from nearby American Legion posts and VFWs from Hampshire, Bartlett and South Elgin.
“We’re doing a ‘rain dance’ for nice weather – and not a repeat of last year’s severe downpour” that halted the parade just as it began, Breyne said. It was the first time in the parade's history that it was cancelled because of the weather. Marchers will step off at Wilson and Raddant and proceed west on Wilson to Route 25, then head south to the Batavia VFW at 645 S. River St. After the parade, the VFW will sell burgers, brats and other sandwiches as well as soft drinks and beer. A deejay will provide music on the deck, and the VFW Ladies Auxiliary will offer face painting and other children’s entertainment. The Fox Valley Corvette Club will display classic vehicles behind the VFW Hall. “We’ll have a little something for everybody that day,” said Breyne.