'Heartbreaking and bittersweet:' Milwaukee's 2017 holiday parade was its last

2016 Milwaukee Holiday Parade

MILWAUKEE -- A beloved holiday tradition is no more.

The Holiday Parade Foundation of Milwaukee, Inc. announced on Wednesday, Aug. 29 the 2017 Milwaukee Holiday Parade was its last. The DeGrace family, which has organized the annual, free event for 66 years, is retiring from putting on the parade.

The DeGrace siblings said in a news release that decreased financial support, vendor changes along with downtown construction and route logistics have culminated in the "perfect storm."

Susan DeGrace Spaeth

"This decision is both heartbreaking and bittersweet for my family," said Susan DeGrace Spaeth. "My family and I feel that we can no longer maintain the parade at the level that its legacy deserves. Therefore, we have carefully and prayerfully decided to retire from putting on the parade, and last year's parade was our last."

"I'm devastated really. I really am. I mean, I looked forward to this every year. It's a lot of hard work," said John DeGrace.

Sponsors for the 2017 parade included among others Boston Store, which filed bankruptcy and closed its stores this year. Organizers did not receive the necessary funds for the parade this year. Fundraising goals in recent years have been $150,000 annually, which is the minimum required to launch the parade.

"We work full-time jobs. We're getting older. Our volunteer base is getting older. Remember we've been doing this for 23-plus years -- and we think it's time for somebody new to come in and change the face of the parade and potentially make it their own," DeGrace Spaeth said. "Our hope is that somebody will do that, yes."

91st annual Milwaukee Holiday Parade

The Milwaukee Holiday Parade has been an annual holiday kick-off staple in Milwaukee for the past 92 years. Originally, it was started by the now-defunct Shuster's Department Store as a kick-off to the holiday shopping season. The parade continued since 1953 under the leadership of three generations of the DeGrace family.

91st annual Milwaukee Holiday Parade