ELKHART — When the Labor Day parade started in downtown Elkhart, Chloe Floyd was looking forward to seeing her boyfriend, Jake VanderMolen marching in his Marine dress uniform.
A few minutes later, her hand was shaking as she said “yes” to VanderMolen in the middle of Main Street as the crowd watched.
“I think she said yes,” said Allen Strike, parade announcer, as VanderMolen stood up and his new fiancee kissed him.
“He definitely surprised me,” Floyd said a few minutes later, standing on the sidewalk with VanderMolen. Since April, “He had been hinting toward it,” but after a summer on the East coast, she’d about given up. She’s a reservist with the U.S. Coast Guard and was in a school out east, only a few hours from where VanderMolen was stationed, so they saw each other when they could. Every time, though, she left with no ring on her finger. “I was kind of like, ‘It’s never going to happen. I’ll stop thinking about it,’” she said.
Still, when VanderMolen was coming home for four days of leave, she thought he might pop the question when he got off the plane, but when that didn’t happen, she figured it wouldn’t, at least not on this short trip.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be in front of all these people,” she said.
VanderMolen had been planning it for months, though. He’d considered proposing on the beach, but when he learned about the parade back home, he figured now was the time. “It just came about better than I thought it would,” he said.
The couple’s engagement wasn’t the only unusual aspect of the 2013 parade on Monday, Sept. 2. The Elkhart Fire Department presented the Sarah Crane family with money raised through sales of “Sarah Strong” shirts it’s been selling to raise support for the young cancer patient.
Sarah’s mom, Julie, said, “I just want to thank the community for all your support. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a purple shirt,” and it’s a reminder that Elkhart is the “city with a heart,” she said from the announcer platform above a sea of “Sarah Strong” shirts.
The other unusual feature of this year’s parade was the presence of U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), walking behind local unions in the parade route with some of his staff. Instead of speaking at the stand, the Granger politician went back and forth across Main Street, shaking hands and talking with parade attendees.
It was a great day for a parade, and attendees enjoyed it. Aniyah Reyes, 5, watched the start from the arms of her father, Miguel. They come to the parade yearly “so they can watch and see things, so when they grow up they can remember, ‘I was at that,’” Miguel said of his children.
Nearby, Richard and Deloris Max watched. “It’s the first time I’ve been here for three to four years,” said Richard Max. “They put on a good parade up here. It’s nice,” he said.
Tony Flora, president of the AFL-CIO council for north-central Indiana, said the parade is a nice way to observe Labor Day. “Unions started this in the 1880s and we’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.