LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It's hard to top a small town Memorial Day parade for feelings of pure Americana.
And, over the past four years, perhaps no municipality in the region does it better than Lakewood Ranch and its annual Tribute To Heroes Memorial Parade and Celebration at Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
By 6 p.m. Sunday, 3,500 packed Main Street for the event that dollops lots of love on servicemen and women, past and present, said Lori Basilone, director of LWR Community Activities, which organizes the event.
Last year the attendance was 1,500. It was 1,000 the year before that and 200 the first year, Basilone added.
Four of those 3,500 were Palmetto Councilwoman Tamara Cornwell, her husband, Frank Brunner, of CrimeStoppers and their twin boys, Luke and Joshua, all of whom came to enjoy the sights and sounds and treats at the parade.
"Yes, the Palmetto gang is here," Brunner said with a big grin, which seemed to say that Lakewood Ranch was the place to be Sunday night.
Brunner served his country in the U.S. Army.
"Every year it has gotten bigger," Basilone said of the parade. "Last year we had 24 floats and this year we had 43."
Perhaps what makes the event special is that its focus is on troops, not politics.
A popular woman at the parade was Linda Craig of Manatee Operation Troop Support (MOTS), the group that gathers everyday supplies to ship directly to soldiers in combat zones from Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"I support Linda one hundred percent because I received some of those items and I know what it meant to me," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Julian Alejos of Bradenton, who is in the Air Force Reserve at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, but was overseas this time last year.
Gianna Talerico, 7, was one of a half-dozen students from Daisy Troop 888 from Tara Elementary School who brought packages to be sent to soldiers through MOTS.
"They can't go to a Walgreens," Ginger Talerico, Gianna's mother, said of the troops. "All of the Daisy Troop 888 members brought bags filled with items to donate."
"We currently have 45 servicemen and women from Manatee and Sarasota counties stationed in combat zones," Craig said.
Those who weren't able to bring a bag of items like Starburst candy, flip-top cans of ravioli, animal crackers, Slim Jims, disposable cameras, toys, flip-flops and other items that most of us take for granted, can bring donations
to MOTS at 4301 32nd St. W., Suite C-20, Bradenton. Information: 941-782-0748.
Other highlights of the parade included:
n Lakewood Ranch and ESPN sportscaster Dick Vitale, who was Grand Marshal, presented Lakewood Ranch band director Bob Schaer with an award for his years of creating inspirational and patriotic music.
n The sharp and snappy U.S. Naval Sea Cadets opened the parade.
n Fan-pleasing floats included Manatee Operation Troop Support, Miss Lakewood Ranch, Silver Star dance team, Lakewood Ranch High band, a horse drawn caisson with American flag, the Lakewood Ranch Mom's Club with 20 children, four Girl Scout troops (Troop Nos. 883, 387, 474, 764), a Boy Scout troop (125), three Daisy Troops (144, 888 and 387) and a Cub Pack from Myakka City (42).