Float vehicle for green reunion
Tom O’Connor has an annual shopping chore that he says always confuses clerks.
“I tell them, ‘I need as much as you have of this color at the cheapest price,’” he said. “They always ask, ‘What’s it for.’”
The store clerks might get a clue from the shamrock green sample. But they probably wouldn’t expect an order of such a large quantity of the color two months before the first green clover appears in spring.
The green paint is for the Mike O’Connor Family float to be entered in the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Thanksgiving, Christmas or summer reunions might bring some families together, but it’s St. Patrick’s Day that yearly knits together the extended family of Mike and Nancy O’Connor of De Soto, eight of their 11 children and the majority of the couple’s 27 grandchildren.
The O’Connors’ roots in the parade go back to its inaugural year of 1974, although the family took off about a decade starting in 1988 as the children left the household for college or to start families and careers.
Because of the float, St. Patrick’s Day is more than a one-day or weekend family gathering. Preparations start in January when the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee announces the theme for the year.
With that, Tom creates a design for the float, which is then modified as family members add ideas. During weekends from late January until St. Patrick’s Day, family members gather at Mike and Nancy’s home to work on the float.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, grandchildren were busy painting large paper shamrocks, while their elders— patriarch Mike; son Tom and his wife, Leigh, of Lee Summit, Mo.; daughters Sarah Book and Mary Gensler of Shawnee, and Amy Fangman of De Soto — helped or worked on the replicas of such Kansas City Irish landmarks as Redemptorist Church on Broadway, Kelly’s of Westport and Browne’s Irish Market and Deli.
The float’s theme this year will be the Kerry Patch Kids, with family members wearing large papier-mâché heads that evoke the Cabbage Patch Dolls.
“The Kerry Patch — that’s what they called the original Irish community in Kansas City,” Tom said. “The theme this year is ‘Pioneering Spirit, the Irish in Kansas City.’”
Although each year the float is assembled in De Soto before the trip to Kansas City, the two-and-a-half-month race to complete the float always ends in a photo finish as the family adds finishing touches at the parade’s staging area.
Tom said repairs were always needed after the trip to the Kansas City parade route, which can be hard on the float, Tom said.
“I never really know what it’s going to look like until we put it all together at the parade,” Tom said. “Every year, we are still finishing the details of the float as we’re starting the parade.”
The trip can also be a little dicey, Mike said, recalling a year a large tube flew off the truck on a busy Kansas Highway 10.
The Kelly’s replica on this year’s float is the second the family has built. One graced the O’Connor float two years ago, but it went up in a bonfire with the rest of the float.
“Some families rebuild the same float every year or enter the same one,” Tom said. “Every year after the parade, we have a bonfire and burn our float.”
Weather can also damage the float. Over the years, the family has seen snow, sleet and heavy winds, Cook said.
“Last year was the worst with all the rain,” she said. “The papier-mâché was melting.”
“But last year, we were the grand prize winner,” Muessig added.
The grand prize was a first for the O’Connors, although they have won best family float and various other prizes.
By winning the grand prize, the O’Connors won two trips to Ireland that remain unused. They plan a big family trip in the future and two more tickets with a grand prize this year would be welcome.
But win or loss the family will enjoy St. Patrick’s Day with the many Sacred Heart Parish “honorary O’Connors” who walk with the float.
“We usually get a block of rooms in a hotel and they (the hotel) generally throw in a meeting room,” Cook said. “We go straight to there from the parade.
“We have a big party afterward. Dad and Tom and everyone who can gets out their guitars and we sing Irish ballads.”