It happened during a meeting of the Portage Lakes Community Council in the late winner of 1976. The topic of discussion was the bicentennial and how we as a community could help celebrate it. At one point, a motion was made and approved to form a committee. Its purpose was to explore ideas. The committee was to report back to the council during the first meeting in March.
Coventry Township resident, Marilyn Straub was drafted to serve as the Portage Lakes Bicentennial Chair and she had asked for volunteers. Having a few ideas of what we could do, my wife, Peggy, and I volunteered to help. Peggy called for a street parade and I suggested a boat parade. It seemed that everyone liked the street parade idea, but I don't think the boat parade suggestion went over too well…at least at first.
Most towns have main streets of macadam running down the center of their community, I told them. But the Portage Lakes is different. With the hundreds of waterfront homes, our main street is made of water. Let's face it, we enter our homes from the back and use the front to live where the lake waters flow. After all, it's called lakefront homes, not lakeback ones.
After winning their approval, I immediately went to work, knowing I only had three and a half months at the most to put a parade together. The Community Council allocated $300 to fund the parade. That included the money for the trophy awards.
The first thing I did was to name a Grand Marshall and I asked a gentleman, known as Mr. Portage Lakes, Ned Mohrman, and his lovely wife, Ruth to serve. The Mohrmans owned the Sandy Beach Marina at the time, had a distributorship for annual car license plate renewals, were heavily involved in the community with service organizations such as the Portage Lakes Kiwanis and were well known throughout the lakes.
The Boat, "Bema Gal," owned by Russ and Bema Herwick, transported the Mohrmans at the head of the parade around the shoreline of the lakes. Escorted by the Summit County Sheriff, we started at the Old Harbor Inn, circumnavigated Wagner's Bay, went through the Iron Channel (Lover's Lane to the purists) cruised both sides of East Reservoir, took in both Miller and Cottage Grove lakes, returned to West Reservoir, made our way through Turkeyfoot Chanel, around both Mud and Turkeyfoot lakes and then returned to the Harbor Inn via West Reservoir for the award ceremonies.
One thing I did different than what's done today was to include all the antique and classic boats in the parade. Separate awards were set aside for these vessels and because of the risk of marring the wooden finish on some, there was no rule that they had to decorate them, and not one of them did. But to qualify for an award, they had to complete the entire parade route.
As I look back on it now, I realize that if they had to decorate their boats using masking tape and such, I doubt if they would have signed up for the parade. We had quite a number of boats in that first parade. I know there were many, many more than what's been paraded recently. But hopefully, that number will increase again.
At the Community Council in April of the following year I was asked to give a status report on the upcoming boat parade. "What upcoming boat parade?" I asked. "No one said anything to me about another boat parade."
I didn't know there would be more, and I explained this to them. Good grief, you'd have thought I was taking away their boats. They insisted on another boat parade. I chaired the parade that year and then took a four year hiatus before returning in 1982.
That was the year I set a goal of having 100 boats in the parade. For the next seven years, I worked hard trying to achieve that goal. Finally, in 1988, I had 102 promised. Unfortunately, only 97 paraded the route. By then I was burnt out and so I retired to allow fresh blood to take over. I came close to that goal. I just didn't make it. Today, even though parade participation has significantly declined, it's still a vital part of the festivities each July here in the Portage Lakes.
What needs to be done, however, is for someone to takeover who is willing to dedicate themselves to build up the parade and assure its continuity. After all, 2016 makes the 41st continuous year for the Portage Lakes July 4th Boat Parade. Of that, each and every one of us can be proud and hold our heads high. After all, we have achieved something that few other communities haven't. A great, grand and continuous Fourth of July community celebration.