Bath resident rallies community to create parade float honoring veterans

by Laura Bednar

The tradition of honoring veterans in the Akron St. Patrick’s Day parade fueled Mary Hartman’s plan to engage the community in creating a parade float.

Hartman has made parade floats for the past six years for the United Service Organization. When the USO did not show an interest in creating a float this year, she took it upon herself to develop a military-themed display. The result: 34,000 stars representing each service person from the state of Ohio.

“It’s a non-political way to say thanks,” Hartman said.

While many of the stars are included in a decorative border on the bottom of the float and in cloth material with a star print, over 10,000 stars came from schools across Northeast Ohio.

Hartman, along with the Paulett family, friends and community members invited students in area schools to cut and color stars and add them to the float. Some were stickers on long strips of paper, others were hand-colored stars from printouts Hartman had sent to schools. Students from several schools participated, including students from Solon, Cleveland Heights, Fairview, Bay Village, Revere, Independence, Brecksville, St. Edward’s, Orange, Hudson, Avon Lake, Chagrin Falls, Valley Christian Preschool, St. Joseph’s, Magnificat and Andrews Osborne Academy.

The 5th, 6th, and 7th grade Sunday School class at Bath United Church of Christ (l-r) Melinda and Daphne Tucker, Riley Schultz, Lily Boelter, Lori, Abby and Ellie Lankford, Samantha Hancart made stars for the float. Photo courtesy of Jane Bechtel.

“The goal is to have 34,000 [handmade] stars by the Fourth of July,” Hartman said, noting the USO could use the float in future parades.

The project, which she dubbed “Ohio Cares–Stars for Stars,” produced thousands of stars on paper strips, which were displayed around the float between vinyl curtains to protect them from the weather.

The float is an 18-by-7-foot trailer enclosed in a frame. In addition to the stars, a sign on one side of the float read “USA Military, Thank You,” and a flag for each of the five military branches was displayed on the back. The float also sported the American flag and an Ohio flag below two pop-up canopies. Children from Bath United Church of Christ and area schools were invited to ride on the float during the parade.

Jane Bechtel, a volunteer and church member, said that Bath Church members contributed 4,400 stars to the float.

Hartman said that a homemade display is the best kind. “Any money from the USO needs to go elsewhere, not to a float,” she added.

Bath residents Brian and Debbie Semon pass out treats behind the float, which displayed a flag for each branch of the military in the back. Photo submitted.

Hartman’s brother, Jim Paulett, offered his trailer to pull the float and was one of several family members who volunteered their time to decorate and construct the float.

Paulett is a Richfield resident and former Bath Township and Granger Township fire chief. He, along with Hartman and their other siblings, grew up in the Bath/Richfield area and attended Revere Local Schools. Hartman has since returned to live in Bath and said her other siblings all live within 20 miles of where they grew up.

Her husband Dave constructed the float frame, and her siblings, children, friends and family helped decorate. They also spread the word about coloring and sending stars.

“People were coming over to work on stars I hadn’t seen in a while,” Hartman said.

There was no parade during the pandemic, and she was eager to make up for lost time. “I felt bad not doing it during COVID,” Hartman said.

Kent State University ROTC members acted as a color guard during the parade. Volunteers Joy Decker, Al Maragliano, Barb Long and Steve Decker carried a banner ahead of the float that read “USA Military Stars for Stars.”

The veteran connection runs deep, as Hartman and many of the volunteers have family members who served or serve in the military. Following the parade, Hartman held her annual potluck for people to share in traditional St. Patrick’s Day food, like corned beef and cabbage and potatoes. Float volunteers as well as extended family and friends met in Allardale Park in Medina to eat and connect.

“Everybody mingles,” Hartman said. “That’s what’s nice.” ∞