Feature Stories

O’Hara Named Grand Marshal of St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The next Grand Marshal of the annual Sioux Falls St. Patrick’s Day Parade is 100% Irish, has marched with his family in each of the 41 parades and is the son of an earlier Grand Marshal. He is Mike O’Hara, 76, owner of O’Hara Masonry and a native of Montrose, an Irish community west of Sioux Falls.

This year’s parade in downtown Sioux Falls on Saturday, March 19, will honor the late Msgr. James Michael Doyle, the 1999 grand marshal and a long-time supporter of the parade and the Irish community in Sioux Falls. The parade had been canceled in the last two years because of concerns over COVID 19.

The O’Hara clan, typically from 35 to 50 of them, have become memorable for their elaborate parade floats, the most recent featuring the “old woman” in a very large shoe. Mike’s dad, John, was Grand Marshal in 2000. “He was honored but didn’t understand why a guy from Montrose would be in a parade in Sioux Falls,” Mike said.

Mike was one of 14 children raised in the Montrose area by John and his wife, Evelyn. Mike and his wife, Deb, live near Renner and have three adult sons. He was an avid youth baseball and basketball coach for many years. The O’Hara clan emigrated to South Dakota in the mid-1800s via Iowa from County Cavan in northern Ireland.

O’Hara says the advent of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade started the family’s formal celebrations. “Construction of the float and participation in the parade became the reason for the largest concentration of our family to honor our Irish traditions,” he says. “From my parents to the grandkids, the great-grandkids, and the great-great-grandkids, the parade has been a cause for all to gather and celebrate. Many a great or great-great-grandchild has had their family ‘debut’ at the parade.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza Committee plans the parade with support from the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. The parade was informally organized in 1980 by the late Sylvia Henkin. She stepped down in 2013 after serving as parade grand marshal for the second time. Her successor is Shawn Cleary, president of Tiger Corporation, an Irishman who proudly wears his green stripes.

The parade remains an event that brings the regional community together to celebrate – just as Sylvia envisioned. The parade usually has about 100 entries and is called the people’s parade because anyone can participate as long as they are registered or part of a registered group and wearing an official St. Patrick’s parade button, which costs $3.

Registration, which closes March 12, is available at the siouxfallsevents.com/stpats. Placement in the parade is on a first come, first served basis and is at the discretion of parade officials. Each entry must have some kind of Irish theme. The link also includes rules for participation in the parade. Buttons are available in advance at the Chamber of Commerce office, 200 N. Phillips Ave., and numerous businesses throughout the community. They can also be purchased the day of the parade at the start of the parade.

The traditional painting of the shamrock will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 19 in front of Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Gifts, 219 S. Phillips Avenue. The event will be public and Phillips Avenue will be closed at 10:45 a.m. between 10th and 11th Streets. The parade takes off from Phillips Avenue and 13th Street at 2 p.m. and ends around 5th Street. Streets adjacent to the route are closed at 1:30 p.m. and parking is not allowed on Phillips Avenue starting late Saturday morning. The parade will begin staging at 12:30 p.m. on Main and Dakota Avenues between 11th and 13th Streets.

An enduring part of the parade has been the Khartum Temple Pipe & Drums from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They hope to return this year and their expenses, have been covered by donations from Sanford Health, Avera Health, Xcel Energy and Holliday Inn City Centre.


Other activities:

  • The 2022 Miss Shamrock, a high school student typically of Irish descent, will appear at the painting of the shamrock and in the parade.
  • The “Vanguard Squadron,” an ethanol-powered airplane stunt team, again will perform at the start of the parade, weather permitting.
  • The falls of the Big Sioux River will be lit green both the evening of the parade and the following day.
  • And the Arc of Dreams sculpture over the Big Sioux River will be lit green.