America's Thanksgiving Parade thrills, chills and warms the heart

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

This year's America’s Thanksgiving Parade honored two Detroiters who’ve died in the last year: Art Van Elslander, who once saved the event financially, and Aretha Franklin. Fittingly, the theme was “Art, Heart and Soul."

Fan favorite Captain Underpants soars over the parade route, brought to you by The Detroit News.

Franklin's family members rode in the parade in two Ford Mustangs. Playing Aretha Franklin hits behind them was the Cass Tech marching band, one of 13 bands performing Thursday.

Members of the Van Elslander family waved to the crowd, too.

Volunteer Sarah Mickowski of New Baltimore helps keep the Optimus Prime balloon from transforming into a fly away fiasco.

For Rebecca Hovarter, 45, of Howell, America’s Thanksgiving Parade is a family tradition.

Time was, when she was a child, the family would bring ladders and scaffolding and the clan of 25 would enjoy both the spectacle and the togetherness of the holiday.

Things have changed over the years, as the family has spread out, the parade clan is about half the size it was at its height. This year, early-arriving relatives got a spot upwind of Hovarter and her daughter’s preferred spot, at Woodward north of Farnsworth.

The 10 millionth production Ford Mustang  glides down Woodward near Comerica Park.
Lions mascot Rory and the Tigers mascot PAWS wave to the crowds along Woodward Ave.

The easy parking near the Detroit Institute of Arts, the easy path from there to the freeway, and the elevated lawn all make that spot ideal for the self-described “vertically challenged” pair.

Hovarter wore a turkey-shaped hat and turkey-themed apron, the same she’ll wear after the parade when she’s back home, putting the finishing touches on dinner.

David Van Elslander, left, and his brother, Gary ride along in a Ford Mustang while waving to the crowds.

Members of the Detroit Police Mounted Unit head down the parade route.

Leaving early was not an option. Not when “the entire reason we’re here” is to see Santa Claus, who arrived at the end. On a day not even expected to reach the freezing point, it was cold, but Hovarter believed it to be worth the wait.

For Rebecca Hovarter, right, of Howell, America’s Thanksgiving Parade is a family tradition.

A very cold man approached Nick Kokotovich and asked: “You selling egg sandwiches?”

It was not an illogical question, seeing Kokotovich cooking eggs on a griddle along the parade route, its heat providing warmth on a below-freezing day.

But the answer was still no. That food was for family, not a hustle for extra cash.

Jessica Konopka and her 11 month old son Patrick, both of Northville and both dressed for the cold.

For Kokotovich, 42, who came to the parade down Woodward, from Pleasant Ridge, the cold wasn’t enough to deter his first trip to the parade in the last decade. The last time he came, he said, it was not only cold — it rained, too. It was enough to make him think “why would I ever do this again?” he said.

His three children, and his extended family, ended up being reason enough to change his mind.

Santa Claus gets a float of his own as he heads south on Woodward to officially start the holiday season.

As Santa Claus headed south on Woodward, parade-goers at points north packed up their chairs, their blankets, their griddles and left.

Santa Claus has come to the town. All were now free to enjoy Christmas music without being accused of doing so prematurely.

“Ho, ho, ho,” Santa said as his float passed Parsons. “I love you and I’ll see you soon.”