The theme of this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Parade in Old Metairie is “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
And there couldn’t be a more appropriate title for the 43rd annual parade as the members of the parade’s committee honor its founder, president and longtime captain, John Marchese, as grand marshal.
“When the parade committee told me that I would be this year’s grand marshal, I tell you I was shocked. I never expected it,” said Marchese, a resident of Metairie. “I am really very honored and looking forward to having a wonderful time.”
Marchese retired last year as the group’s president and captain after spending 42 years at the helm of the organization he started in 1970. At the age of 95, Marchese said it was time to step down.
“I love this organization,” Marchese said. “But I felt that after all these years, it was time for someone else to take over. And at 95, some of our younger members of the St. Patrick Parade Committee should have a chance to run things.”
“After all his years of hard work, selecting Johnny as the grand marshal was something all of us on the committee wanted to do, ” added Donald Bock, a longtime member of the St. Patrick Parade committee who now, along with member Dan Civello, now serve as co-captains of the parade. “I came up with this year’s theme as a way of honoring Johnny. And everyone agrees that it’s the perfect theme.”
The parade begins at noon, Sunday on Severn Avenue near Archbishop Rummel High School.
It rolls south on Severn, turning left, or east, onto Metairie Road. It will proceed down Metairie, turning left or north onto Focis Street. It will disband at Focis and Canal Streets.
Prior to the parade, the annual presentation of the shillelagh will be held on Friday beginning at noon at Fulco’s, 519 North Turnbull Drive, Metairie.
The event will include music, dancing, soft drinks, green beer and food.
Reigning as queen of the parade will be Marchese’s wife of 73 years, Dorothy.
“I don’t like being in the limelight,” Dorothy Marchese said. “But this is something special the group is doing for Johnny, and he’s so happy about being grand marshal, I couldn’t say no.”
Marchese said he remembers very well the first year the St. Patrick parade rolled.
“To be honest with you, it was awful,” he said.
“We just didn’t have enough walking groups or floats. But with some help from others more experienced that I was back then, we had 30 to 40 units the second year and today, we have more than 110 units participating in the parade.”
Over the years, Marchese said several people have suggested to him to move the parade to the traditional parade route along Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Marchese has always said no.
“Because there are so many businesses and homes near our route along Metairie Road, the people really come out and support us,” Marchese said.
“You can’t believe how many people you see along Metairie Road who are out barbecuing, setting up tables filled with food and drinks and enjoying music. It is just a great atmosphere. To me, it’s just magical.”
Bock, who has known and been friends with Marchese for many years, said he doesn’t know how Marchese was able to single-handedly manage each and every detail of the parade.
“There is so much to do to organize this parade — I don’t know how Johnny did it,” said Bock, who is also the group’s treasurer. “He had some people help him with a few things but basically, Johnny ran the entire parade, from start to finish. He’s a remarkable person.
“Johnny has so many wonderful attributes but I think his sincerity and his love for people is what really stands out.
“He has the kind of personality that he just loves everyone he meets and in turn, those he meets love him right back.”
The Marcheses have two sons, one daughter and several grandchildren. And on Sunday, the couple will ride on a float designated just for them.
“In all the years I have been a part of this parade, this is my first time riding on a float,” Marchese said. “I have always walked the route, so being above the crowd will really be different. I know that when we make that turn on Metairie Road, it will be a wonderful sight. I can’t wait.”