Staying cool in Cherry Republic’s Fourth of July Parade bear suit

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Photo: Connor Ciolek (1) as Boomer the bear; Todd Ciolek (r) as Connor’s dad.

From staff reports

Connor Ciolek considers it an honor to wear Cherry Republic’s “Boomer” bear costume in the Glen Arbor Fourth of July parade, which gathers in Glen Haven in the morning and departs for downtown around noon.

Ciolek, age 20 and a rising junior at Michigan State, is the son of Cherry Republic CEO Todd Ciolek. The company’s mascot has been a mainstay in his life; he has a vivid memory of Boomer showing up at his older brother Jackson’s fifth birthday. This is the second year in a row Connor has volunteered to dress as Boomer for the parade.

The job has its trials, though.

“It’s very hot. The black costume soaks up all the sun,” said Connor, who has worked at Cherry Republic for eight years. “I wear an ice pack vest on my chest, especially when the parade (temperature) is in the mid-80s like it was last year.”

Strategy is key. Connor will remain in his truck in Glen Haven as long as possible before putting on the costume. Then when they walk the two miles down M-109 toward Glen Arbor, where most of the parade crowds wait, his buddy Taiger Ritter takes care of him.

“He’s my eyes and ears, because there’s low visibility in that vest,” said Connor. “He makes sure I don’t pass out.” With his days playing varsity football, basketball and baseball at Glen Lake High School now three years behind him, Connor emphasized that “there’s been some time off from all the cardio.”

The bear has a character of its own, he added.

“It’s not about who’s inside the costume, it’s about the bear itself. The bear represents the company and our values—life, liberty, beaches and pie. It’s about having fun, being generous, and being part of the community.”

Cherry Republic founder and president Bob Sutherland estimated that his company has taken part in the Fourth of July parade for at least 25 years, and Boomer has been there for a couple decades.

“I wore it myself one or two Fourth of July parades. But I didn’t like not being able to speak and hear,” said Sutherland, who stands 6-foot-4. “Nor was it right for me to wear it—I wasn’t the right size. When I wore it, my long bare foreleg was exposed between my bearskin pants and my fur paw feet.

“The costume has pockets to hold ice packs and it feels strange to have 100-degree spots in the mask, but 40-degree spots where ice is up against your skin.”

Sutherland’s favorite memory of Cherry Republic staff in the parade predates Boomer the bear.

“It was when we paraded as farmer rebels and we marched alongside a tractor carrying pitchforks. A sign read, ‘Good for the USA that you got independence—now grant the beloved Cherry Republic our independence’.”

Dorsey marshals parade

Near-centenarian Jim Dorsey has been chosen as the Grand Marshall for Glen Arbor’s Fourth of July parade. (He’ll turn 100 next April 27.) Dorsey, who served as Empire’s postmaster for 28 years, is enjoying his 100th year on Glen Lake. According to Glen Arbor Township supervisor Tom Laureto, “His first-hand recall of local events during the past century is cherished by all his friends and acquaintances. Thank you, Jim, for leading our parade.”

The annual parade is open to anyone who wants to join and celebrate the nation’s birthday. Parade vehicles will gather in Glen Haven early Thursday morning and will proceed towards Glen Arbor at noon. Walkers are asked not to join the parade until the last vehicle passes the Christian Science Church on M-109. Many stretches in downtown Glen Arbor are crowded.

Township officials ask parents to keep children away from entering the street and follow the guidance from the “broom crew” which is comprised of volunteers who “broom” candy from the street. Those shooting water cannons and super soakers from floats are highly encouraged to avoid hitting young children and senior citizens.

On Wednesday, July 3, at 7:30 p.m., the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) Concert Band will again honor the United States with patriotic music and musical favorites at the Glen Arbor Township Park. Bring your own chair and a wide brim hat for sun protection. The NMC Concert Band, conducted by Patricia Brumbaugh, is an adult musical organization supported by the college and comprised of members of the community and NMC students.

On Sunday morning, July 7, from 8 a.m. until noon, Glen Lake firefighters and paramedics will serve a pancake breakfast at the Glen Arbor Township Hall. Proceeds from the annual pancake breakfast will defray the costs of sending Glen Lake firefighters to paramedic school and other training opportunities.