Egg Harbor’s Parade Captain, Christine Tierney

Heroes, icons and notable people are titles reserved for textbooks and big cities. In Door County, we have characters. They are the people who may never have a word written about them but they walk around like painters, splashing color on everything they do and everyone they meet.

If you mull around the county long enough, people will know your name. But not until you do something truly original will they talk about you to friends and neighbors. For Christine Tierney, originality came in the form of Egg Harbor’s parade captain.

“There’s a part of me that’s thinking I can’t just keep doing everything, somebody else has to do something once in awhile,” said Tierney. “But I’ll be there. I have to be there.”

The Fish Creek native found herself traveling all around the world before settling into her shop, Christine’s Casuals and Classics, in Egg Harbor more than 25 years ago. While the store is revered by tourists and locals looking for women’s wear, Christine’s true body of work is herself and she’s cultivated it with no shortage of strange and exciting tales.

“My mother said I’ve been acting all my life,” laughed Tierney as she climbs the narrow spiral staircase to her apartment. It’s a Tuesday morning in December but this semi-retiree has five appointments that day so she grabs a cup of bad coffee and sits on a plush red chair.

“I went to school in Milwaukee. I went to a career college and then I also did classes at Marquette,” said Tierney. “I took drama. Can you believe that? Because I aspire to be an actress.”

Her dreams of acting started with dance in Northern Door while going to a two-room school in Fish Creek where the library stands today. Tierney recalls the pre-tourism days of Door County, when kids rode horses to school and there were just two others in her class. Dance and acting were a form of expression that seemed progressive for a truly rural spot on Wisconsin’s map.

But her start in baton twirling at the age of four is what would really shape her reputation that floats around Door County today. At four years old, Tierney led the Gibraltar High School band through their performances. Competing statewide and eventually joining the Green Bay Packers Golden Girls at the age of 17 vaulted her into a position of self-made spotlight.

“Golden Girls were those that twirled and performed on the field and then also did parades and functions for the Packers,” said Tierney. The group started functioning as the unofficial Packers cheerleaders outside of their 11-year tenure as the true cheering squad for the team from 1961 through 1972.

“My drama coach said I should stop doing whatever I was doing and go into acting and I never did,” said Tierney, who looks up as if staring at a film of what life could have been like had she not taken that job with Northwest Airlines and fallen in love. But the airline was an exciting place to be and life began moving too fast to stop the wheels and change directions.

“My most exciting time was the seven years I spent going to Paris on the weekends,” recalled Tierney of her airline days. “It just was one of the perks. We would go to South America and get our hair done. We would go to Peru to get a tan for a wedding or a party. We went to Africa. We went skiing in Oslo, Norway. We went to Hawaii a lot because that was totally free. You could just hop a plane whenever you wanted to. We would fly all night Sunday night and be at work on Monday at 8 o’clock.”

That’s how the industry worked back then. Airline employees could grab open seats to anywhere in the world as long as they were back in time for work on Monday. As a 20-something, the weekdays were just enough time to recharge before another round of adventure and jetlag.

But Tierney fell in love fast and grew up faster when she moved to sleepy Roanoke, Va. to spend her days as a mother to her new son. Still keeping in touch with her stage life, she taught modeling and some dance. It wasn’t until her move back home to Door County that she would take the stage, even if that stage was a cold and wet highway in the middle of Egg Harbor.

“Darrell Lautenbach said, ‘You ought to be in the parade on New Years Day,’ and I said, ‘What parade?’ He said a couple of years ago they went down the highway in snowmobiles and his brother on a horse and called it a parade. There’s nobody up here so you could just go down the highway.”

Tierney doesn’t remember getting permission from the village and doesn’t remember many people being there. But with a spare Santa Claus suit for Tierney and a snowman in the back of a pickup truck, people began to line the street.

“We built an eight-foot snowman on the back of our pickup truck. She was huge. We put a hat on her, she had big boobs and we had a king-size sheet that we wrapped around her. There was probably only 40 people watching,” said Tierney.

But the makeshift parade grew in popularity and it became the place to go after plunging into the frozen lake in Jacksonport on the New Year’s morning. Since then, Tierney has sacrificed the party on New Year’s Eve to stay sharp for leading the parade, twirling her baton in her hands and hoping that her Santa hat and beard doesn’t fall off.

Christine Tierney high kicks her way through Egg Harbor’s Christmas parade. Photo by Len Villano.

Christine Tierney high kicks her way through Egg Harbor’s Christmas parade. Photo by Len Villano.

But the parade itself became a party of its own.

“There were all of these people in the back of the pickup truck drinking wine out of these big jugs and yelling and screaming and blowing the horn,” she remembered of the earlier parades. “We got in front of what now is the gas station and I lifted my beard and someone gave me a flask of whiskey. I took a big slug and I can feel this little tugging on my coat. I look down and there’s Tommy Dannhausen and he goes, ‘Santa, thank you for my Tonka truck’,” she laughed.

With 36 years of parading at both the New Year and Fourth of July, Tierney earned her fair share of stories that might embarrass anyone else. There was the time her red Volkswagen Beetle ran out of gas in the middle of the parade. Or driving the local priest along the road as people shouted, “Good looking girlfriend, father!” Then there was the incident with a teddy bear and whipped cream that is not fit for print.

Above all, there is the unwavering infatuation of men toward this female Santa Claus.

“One year I have pictures taken of me kissing men with beards,” said Tierney. “I don’t know what little kids must think because all the men come out and hug me and kiss me and hand me booze.”

Although these crazy men and curious kids make her want to come back every year, she won’t be here forever.

“I’ve been trying to literally pass the baton,” said Tierney, who now thinks of moving to France as she had always dreamed. But in each of the two years she has not been in the New Year’s parade, friends and visitors told her how colorless it was. Tierney worries about the loss of character in the county or whether anyone will pick up wherever she leaves off.

“It’s amazing that I can have such an effect on people… but we all have to know that life goes on,” said Tierney. But she admits the day that the day she hangs up the white beard and baton won’t be easy.

“It even bothered me when I didn’t do a Fourth of July parade this year. Once I hear that band music, which has been in my life all my life, when I heard the horns blowing and the trucks coming down the street, I thought, ‘Dammit, why didn’t I do something?’”

Tierney doesn’t know when that day will come, but when it does, the county can only hope someone else will give the baton a twirl. Or we just thank her for adding some color to a gray day in January as we tug on her coat like a little kid that just got a Tonka truck for Christmas.

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