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It’s here: The 95th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade

Photo courtesy of The Parade Company | The Parade Company’s Distinguished Clown Corps is a group of corporate and community leaders who exchange their business suits for clown suits in support of the parade.

by Barb Pert Templeton

A Q&A with Parade Company CEO Tony Michaels

“Love on Woodward.”

That’s the theme for the 95th annual America’s Thanksgiving Parade that will go live on Woodward Avenue in Detroit beginning at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. The parade is sponsored by Gardner White and can be seen locally on WDIV Channel 4.

This year’s parade Grand Marshalls are Hall of Fame Football player Calvin Johnson and Bishop Edgar Vann, a major contributor to the greater good in Detroit. In addition, 11 celebrity guests were named to the parade including several gold medal winning Olympians, the Detroit Children’s Youth Choir and the Little League Team from Taylor that won the 2021 World Series. 

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Photo courtesy of The Parade Company
Big Head Corps boasts the world’s largest collection of papier-mâché heads and the new one to be unveiled at the 2021 parade is Stevie Wonder Big Head.

Parade CEO Tony Michaels, who has served as the president and CEO for The Parade Company for 11 years is a former member on the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation Board of Directors and a past Executive Vice President and CEO for Elias Brothers Restaurants. 

Michaels, who lives in Rochester Hills with his wife, Clarice and three children, took some time out of his very hectic November schedule to answer some questions about the annual America’s Thanksgiving Parade. 

Blue Water Healthy Living: The first Michigan Thanksgiving Parade was in 1924 can you share some of the major changes over the years?

Michaels: This year marks the 95th America’s Thanksgiving Parade presented by Gardner White. The parade truly becomes bigger and better each year. Our remarkable team works nonstop to amaze spectators with new larger-than-life floats, balloons, celebrities and many surprises along the way. We have made countless upgrades over the years, including increased float sizes—floats originally were 50 feet long, today we are building them over 120 feet long and the use of technology has become key in our creation process. 

BWHL: When did the Turkey Trot join the parade schedule?

Michaels: This year marks the 39th Annual Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot, which has grown over the years to become one of the largest runs in the country on Thanksgiving morning. It is an amazing prelude to the parade and has become a Thanksgiving morning tradition for countless families.

BWHL: Did you grow up going to the parade in the city? Any specific or favorite memory to share?

Photo courtesy of The Parade Company
Parade Company CEO and President Tony Michaels.

Michaels: I grew up going to the parade every single year. I have many fond memories of being with my family and extended family along the parade route on Thanksgiving morning—and have always enjoyed every minute of it. 

BWHL: Was the parade in place in 2020 during the pandemic?  

Michaels: America’s Thanksgiving Parade was reinvented as a televised-only special broadcast with WDIV Local 4 in 2020. 

BWHL: The parade seems to introduce new things including floats each year so what’s new for 2021?

Michaels: There are five new floats created and built by The Parade Company artists. New floats will debut this year from Central Michigan University, Delta Dental, General Motors, Henry Ford Health System and Skillman Foundation

BWHL: How many volunteers will make this parade happen? Can you share examples of some of the places they work to help out?

Michaels: Over 2,000 volunteers help at The Parade Company throughout the year to make our events come to life. There are so many ways for people to get involved including creative opportunities on the float building side to being in the parade on Thanksgiving morning as banner carriers, clowns, float captains, balloon handlers or float drivers. There is something for everyone.

BWHL: How about the crowds, have they diminished or increased over the last few years? 

Michaels: The crowd in Detroit continually increase every year and America’s Thanksgiving Parade is also enjoyed by millions as it is nationally syndicated to 185 cities across America.

BWHL: Can you share a bit of information about the Distinguished Clown Corps? 

Michaels: The Parade Company’s Distinguished Clown Corps is a group of corporate and community leaders who exchange their business suits for clown suits in support of the parade. For nearly 40 years year they make the grand march down Woodward Avenue on Thanksgiving morning, accompanied by their larger-than-life float spreading holiday cheer. We have more than 150 members marching this year.

BWHL: What about the Big Heads Corps, what’s that, exactly? 

Michaels: Big Head Corps is a group of young professionals who help support The Parade Company’s mission by raising funds towards the preservation and restoration of our Big Head Collection which is the world’s largest collection of papier-mâché heads. Each year we create and introduce a new celebrity figure into the Collection, this year the Stevie Wonder Big Head will make its debut on Woodward Avenue on Thanksgiving morning. 

BWHL: What do you feel makes this parade standout among others presented across the nation on Thanksgiving morning?  

Michaels: For nearly a century, this event has become an amazing tradition in our city. I believe it brings the community together in a very special way and this heart is felt by our city as well as viewers across America. 

BWHL: What are some of the other ventures The Parade Company sponsors throughout the year?

Michaels: In addition to America’s Thanksgiving Parade presented by Gardner White and the Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot, The Parade Company creates and produces additional events in the City of Detroit and the region including the Ford Fireworks and Hob Nobble Gobble presented by Ford Motor Company.

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