When Gloria and Allan LaCoe were told off-the-record in December at a volunteer function that they had been selected as the grand marshals for the 2020 St. Patrick's Day parade on Hilton Head, they didn't believe it.
"We thought Alan (Perry, parade committee co-chair) might have been pulling a joke on us," Allan said.
"Our first reaction was, 'my goodness, there's so many people on this island who do so much that there's got to be somebody more deserving than us'," he said. "We were kind of overwhelmed, grateful, humble and all the other words to describe it. It's like wow."
The prestigious honor earmarks local residents who have given back to the community in large doses. Past grand marshals include Dr. Emory Shaw Campbell, Brian Carmines, Tom Peeples, Charles Fraser, Henry Driessen, Betsy Doughtie, Jane and Tom Upshaw, and Charles Perry.
"Our first volunteering was with the Boys and Girls Club in 1997," Gloria said.
"We began at the Boys and Girls Club when there were only 50 kids at the club," Allan said. "We knew all the parents and grandparents and we worked with them after school. Today, we see those same kids out in the world, and they become "teacher of the year". It's very gratifying. Maybe in one small little way, you've made a difference in somebody's life"
She and Allan are part of the small committee that organized the first Community Thanksgiving Dinner at Hudson's Restaurant, and that has continued to serve together for the past 21 years. The event is open to anyone who would like to dine with others. Lots of preparation and organizing is required to distribute turkey and all the trimmings for 1,600 guests.
"It's turned into quite an island event and we're very proud of it," Gloria said.
As native New Englanders - he from Pennsylvania and she from Massachusetts - being grand marshals is a Lowcountry dream true.
"I never imagined living in a place like Hilton Head, let alone leading the parade," Gloria said. "All we have to do is show up at the parade now."
They have participated in pre-parade promotional events over the past few weeks.
Locals can thank Tom Reilley, proprietor of Reilley's Grill & Bar, for putting together a motley parade idea into action in 1983 that now draws a crowd of approximately 30,000 on the sidewalks of Pope Avenue.
Parade organizers say this year's event will include more bands than ever before, with a total of 12 - six pipe and drum corps, six high school bands, and ... drum roll, please ... the Parris Island Marine Corps Band and, for the first time, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Highty-Tighty Band. "Our bands are a favorite part of the parade for everyone," said Gabrielle Muthing, parade committee co-chair. "So, imagine our excitement when we found out the Highty-Tighties will be able to join us this year! We are thrilled."
The parade line-up also features floats from local businesses; marchers from schools, churches, civic groups and nonprofit organizations; and numerous dignitaries including elected officials and past grand marshals.
The parade steps off at 3 p.m. March 15 from the Coligny Beach Park entrance on Pope Avenue, and will continue to Office Park Road, ending at Park Plaza.
Volunteers are still needed to help with staging, line-up and other tasks. Space remains available for additional parade entries as well. For more information, to enter the parade and to volunteer, visit HiltonHeadIreland.org.
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.