Work starts in January. Committees start meeting. Spreadsheets fill with data. Volunteers recruit and train scores of other volunteers.
Pam Tallmadge watches over it all.
About six months later, on the morning of July 4, everything comes together as Dunwoody’s annual Fourth of July Parade – which residents of the north DeKalb city claim is now the biggest event of its kind in the metro area – steps off on its 2-plus-mile march down Mount Vernon Road.
“I love the parade,” Tallmadge said. “The parade is my favorite volunteer job I’ve ever done. Who doesn’t love a parade?”
Tallmadge, co-chairwoman of the parade since 2006, jokes she’s known around town nowadays as “Parade Pam.” She, co-chair Penny Forman, and their volunteer crew make sure Dunwoody’s annual holiday to-do comes off without a hitch.
On July 3, Tallmadge marks the starting spots for all the units registered to take part in the parade. Once the parade starts, Tallmadge said, she actually runs alongside to make sure everything is in the right place and stays there. “I am the parade police,” Tallmadge joked one recent afternoon during a chat at a local coffee shop.
What keeps her coming back? “I have a ball doing it,” she said. “It’s a celebration rolled into a party rolled into a Mayberry-patriotic-Dunwoody [event]. … It’s a small-town thing.”
The parade’s not her only volunteer job. Tallmadge has held PTA and other school-related posts, run scout groups, served as swim team mom, sung in the church choir. In recent years, she’s overseen the DHA’s annual Light Up Dunwoody, its outdoor Christmas light show and celebration.
“She is the Energizer Bunny of volunteers,” said Bill Grossman, secretary and past president of the DHA.
Last year, the homeowners group awarded her its “Citizen of the Year” award for her volunteer work. After the presentation, former Mayor Ken Wright joked she was Dunwoody’s Wonder Woman. “I’m surprised you don’t have a cape,” he said.
She’s won plenty of fans for her volunteer work in Dunwoody.
“The world is only made up with two or three percent of the people who actually get things done,” said current Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis. “She’s one of the people who pull the wagon.”
Dunwoody residents take pride in the parade and its success. The event, sponsored by the DHA and the Dunwoody Crier, a community newspaper, draws more than 30,000 to the north DeKalb city, the DHA says.
“It’s kind of amazing that right here in Dunwoody, we have the largest parade,” Tallmadge said. “It’s kind of spectacular.”
The Dunwoody Women’s Club staged the city’s first July 4 parade in 1976. It continued for five years and then ended for lack of a chairperson, the DHA website says. The parade was revived with DHA sponsorship in 1991, and has been growing ever since. Now, “anybody who’s home on the Fourth is at the parade,” Tallmadge said.
Once things get going, spectators have lots to see. Tallmadge expects this year’s parade, which begins at 9 a.m., will include up to 170 spots for entrees. That’s up from about 120 when she took over.
The parade includes everything from marching bands to displays from churches to military veterans to a group that likes to dress up as pirates. About 50 floats will roll past the gathered parade-watchers. Tallmadge hopes to someday attract the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
New this year? Horses. An equestrian color guard and a horse-drawn stagecoach advertizing a national bank chain are both signed up to take part. “We’ve never had horses before,” Tallmadge said. “We have had dog units – the ‘pug club,’ the ‘Westy club’ – but not horses.”
The parade’s final spot, she said, goes each year to DeKalb County sanitation workers. She said they’re greeted in Dunwoody’s July 4 parade with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for Santa Claus in most community Christmas parades. “They always get big applause,” she said.
As she closes in on her eighth July 4 parade, Tallmadge has no plans to give up her post any time soon.
“I love it,” Tallmadge said. “July 5 is kind of like Christmas afternoon at our house. It’s over. All my email gets really quiet. I’m like, ‘Where did my friends go?’”