Float-building an annual tradition
Children in the O'Connor family wait for St. Patrick's Day like some wait for Christmas.
"None of the kids sleep the night before," Katie O'Connor said. "Most people have St. Patrick's Day. We have St. Patrick's season."
The family of Mike O'Connor gets together every year to build a float for the Kansas City St. Patrick's Day Parade. Mike's house is in De Soto, where the family congregates to construct the float in the weeks and months before the parade. 8-year-old Caleb Book of Shawnee is one of 26 grandchildren. Caleb said he starts to get excited days before the parade.
"You know it's coming soon and you know you'll be having a lot of fun," Caleb said.
Every year, the process begins with ideas, then the family gets together weekends to work.
"This year we got behind schedule because it was too cold to work," Tom said. "It started with about 11 of us on a conference call in January trying to get our ideas heard."
Eight of Mike and Nancy O'Connor's 11 children help with sawing, hammering and painting. Another daughter, Rita, is on the phone from Texas. She's driving to town for the parade next week. Mike and his children have made the parade a tradition since 1998, winning first place in the family float competition in 2001 and 2002 and second place in 2005 and 2006. Mike said it's not about winning, it's about getting into the spirit.
"We love planning something every year to go with the theme," Mike said.
This year's theme is Celebrating St. Patrick in Kansas City. To coincide with the theme, the O'Connor family has constructed a tower from which brother Tim, dressed as St. Patrick, will bless the city. According to sister Sarah Book, Tim is the "holiest brother."
"Actually, Tim just has the costume," Sarah said. "He wore it last year and the crowd really cracked up when he blessed the gentlemen's clubs."
Below St. Patrick's tower are float-size representations of the Kansas City skyline including Bartle Hall, the Kansas City Power and Light Building and Kelly's Westport Inn. Also receiving blessings will be Mike's grandchildren dressed as players for the Royals and Chiefs. Plans for the float were drawn up by Tom, a graphic artist.
"I've used what I do in my profession to help us out," Tom said. "When we actually start building it doesn't always come out like it is on paper."
Each member of the family knows their favorite float. Katie's favorite year was 2001, when the family's theme was 2001:An O'Connor Oddity with family members dressed as apes. Mike enjoys when he gets to be part of the action.
"My favorite was when we had all the little kids in a pot and I was stirring," Mike said. "They were dressed as vegetables for Irish stew."
While the family has enjoyed their success in recent years, it is not their first stint as regulars in the parade. Depending on which family member you ask, the O'Connors' first parade was somewhere around 1976. Mike said the first few years, the family included a keg of beer on the truck and would pass out cups to parade watchers. He said he's glad the parade is safer now. Tom was around 10 for the first parade.
"Our first float was made of chicken wire and crepe paper on a trailer bed," Tom said. "Our family and the parade have just gotten bigger since then."
While that first float was not an award winner, Sarah said there is no secret to their winning ways, they just have fun.
"Half of the family are perfectionists and the other half are impatient," Sarah said. "Usually people measure twice and count once. We measure 15 times, talk about it for a long time, then cut it."
Mike, while fitting a roof onto Bartle Hall, said it's hard to speculate on their chances of winning another prize this year.
"Sometimes we make a float and we wonder if the judges will get it. That's when we win first prize," Mike said. "Other years we have a great idea and we won't win anything."
Although Caleb admits it feels great to win, the other family members say the spirit is more important. Tom said it would be nice to win the only the parade honor the family has never received: the Grand Prize. The winner gets two tickets to Ireland. Tom said the family has a joke about the Grand Prize.
"We say that if Dad and I took the trip to Ireland we would never come back," Tom said.