Metro-East Living

When the Weiths go marching in ... it’s parade time in New Orleans

Jerrie Weith of Shiloh got her birthday wish: A parade in New Orleans

Nearly 50 people joined in the Bourbon Street celebration
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Nearly 50 people joined in the Bourbon Street celebration

All Jerrie Weith, of Shiloh, wanted for her 60th birthday on Feb. 10 was a parade.

Through the French Quarter of New Orleans.

With a brass band, parasols and beads. Maybe a young girl blowing bubbles.

And an entourage of friends.

Jerrie and husband Mel, who have been married 32 years, describe themselves as party people.

“We like to have fun,” said Jerrie, a friendly, petite woman with curly blond hair. “We both like to know other people are having fun, too. We throw a big holiday party every year. We look around to make sure no one is left on their own. We make connections for them. So-and-so is in construction. I wonder if they know that the woman across the room is a real estate agent. We want them to have as much fun as we are having.”

What better place to have fun than New Orleans?

“A couple years ago, I heard a comedian on Sirius, Hannibal Buress,” said Jerrie, who has a consulting business, Health Care Management Alternatives. “He talked about how he wanted to do a special party. ... He found out he could book a parade in New Orleans. He went into a funny story how he got a parade permit for five people. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do for my 60th.’ It was everything I hoped it would be. The idea came from the comedian.”

A lot of the execution came from Mel, a retired police officer who works part time in business development for Taylor Roofing.

I will get the overall idea, but I am a worrier. Nothing worries him. He put it together. He and I chose the route in September.

Jerrie Weith on why she depends on husband Mel

“I will get the overall idea,” Jerrie said, “but I am a worrier. When we didn’t have the parade permit, I worried. Nothing worries him. He put it together. He and I rchose the route in September.

“Jerri and I went down and walked around and talked to people,” Mel said. “When you apply for a permit, they give you a list of second-line bands. (The Jaywalker Second-Line Band) wasn’t my first choice, but I’m glad we ended up with them. By far, they were a great band.”

The frequent parades are the descendants of the city’s famous jazz funerals. They vary in size, but usually are led by a brass band.

“Friends would ask, ‘What are you going to do for your 60th?’ ‘I’m having a parade,’” Jerri said. Soon, she had an entourage for the 6 p.m. Feb. 1 event. Mel designed a logo for parade hankies and bought a wild suit from Tribout’s. Jerrie, and four other friends having birthdays, decorated parasols, in keeping with loose parade protocol.

Anne Klene, of Belleville, carried a white beaded parasol with a 1956 theme. Photos she attached showed what was new that year.

“Who knew Play-Doh and the Yahtzee game came out?” said Anne, who works in commercial real estate. “‘I Love Lucy’ started. The record that was No. 1 the week I was born was ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford.”

26 people in the Weiths’ group marched in the parade number of people (at least) who joined in the parade

The Weiths got parade approval Jan. 20 — just before they left for Miami on a baseball Cardinals cruise.

Parade day, a perfect 75 degrees, Jerrie and Mel went out looking for a place for their friends to meet.

“We knew everybody,” Jerrie said. “They didn’t know each other. We wanted someplace that reminded us of Big Daddy’s — it’s open, you could get a drink, something to eat.”

“I was wearing a Cardinals T-shirt,” Mel said. “We walked by a bar and someone called out, ‘Hey, go Cards.’ We turned into that bar, Spirits on Bourbon. The guy was from O’Fallon, Missouri. He was also on that ‘Bar Rescue’ (Spike TV) show where they went in and redid the bar. Since there was a St. Louis connection, we all met there.”

That’s where they ended up after the parade, too.

“We didn’t close the place,” Jerrie said. “I don’t know if New Orleans closes.”

“What’s really strange,” Mel said, “is afterward, when we were sitting at Spirits, a young couple, 30 or so, said we should do this every year. I said, ‘Stop. OK, here’s the scoop. A permit is $60. The police escort is $350. The band is $950. ...’ They said, ‘You could get five or six to each pitch in $200. That would cover it.’”

“We may do it,” Jerrie said. “If you’re going to throw a parade for yourselves, that’s the place to throw it.”

“It was awesome,” said Anne, who wore kitten heels for the event. “Tossing beads, having people join the parade with us. It made turning 60 a blessing.”

For me, it was all about watching how much everybody enjoyed it. Part of my joy comes from everybody else getting such a thrill.

Jerrie Weith on why the parade was important to her

Q: Were your friends surprised at your birthday wish?

A: “They were all in,” Jerrie said. “They know me. That I really like parties. They said, ‘That is the coolest idea.’ Terri Dankenbring (of Collinsville), my best friend from childhood, her birthday is the day after mine. I said, ‘Perfect, we can have two of us celebrating together.’ (Terri and Jerrie attended Bluff View Park in East St. Louis and are both 1974 Althoff grads.) Then, another friend said, ‘I am turning 60 next year.’ You might as well be in my parade. There were a great combination of people. One of the 60th birthday women, her niece, lives in New Orleans and brought along her daughter, Bri. She’s the little girl blowing bubbles.”

Q: Ever been in a parade before?

A: “Way back in Jaycees, I would walk in parades, but it was not anything like this. The police escort you. They block the streets. The parade was spectacular.”

Q: Did you toss beads?

A: “We gave out beads, candy, blew bubbles. On the Cardinal cruise, a friend who couldn’t go to New Orleans gave me different gifts every day, things to throw during the parade. At other parades (before theirs), they were throwing beads out like crazy. We got three big bags from two parades.”

Q: How did you decide your route?

A: “To me, it’s not a parade unless it goes down Bourbon Street,” Jerrie said. “We started out on Royal, but we wanted most of it to be down Bourbon Street. That’s when other people will join if they think it’s fun. I was in front. I thought we added at least another 20 (to their group of 26). Bands on the sides play what your band is playing. They dance with you in the parade. It becomes almost a community parade. I wanted to end where there was a party place. To many, New Orleans is all about the song, ‘When The Saints Go Marching In.’ We marched into Pat O’Brien’s (a bar that’s been around since 1933) as they were playing that ... We went through the front door, down the hall and out into the courtyard.”

Q: Best part?

A: “For me, it was all about watching how much everybody enjoyed it. Part of my joy comes from everybody else getting such a thrill.”

Q: Next trip?

A: “Opening day (April 3) for the Cardinals in Pittsburgh,” Jerrie said. “It started with Mike Matheny. He’s a friend of ours. We’ve gone to the first games of the season since he’s been manager. We went to Miami. It was the year the Marlins opened their new stadium. Phoenix, Chicago, now Pittsburgh.”

Jerrie’s tips on planning a New Orleans parade

  • If you haven’t been to New Orleans before, go and walk the French Quarter so you can visualize where the parade will be.
  • Choose a hotel room in the French Quarter. That’s where everything is happening. You’re only a couple blocks from everything.
  • Don’t let delays on permits from the Parade Department scare you.
  • The parade folks will give you a list of bands. You can google and find other bands. Keep an open mind.
  • If you’re looking for a nice relaxing vacation, don’t go to New Orleans.
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