For most, Thanksgiving is a tradition that includes family time and a good meal. Perhaps the day is filled with football games before dinner. Maybe there is a 5k Turkey Trot early in the morning to justify an extra helping later in the day. But for the Cinealis family and friends, the annual Jacksonport Thanksgiving Parade and Benefit defines their Thursday.
“Even though the parade is only 10 minutes, it’s become the highlight of our Thanksgiving Day,” said David Cinealis, the lead coordinator for the family’s tradition. This year, the group is larger than ever before, with 24 family members and friends arriving in Jacksonport for what is thought to be the only Thanksgiving Day parade in Wisconsin.
It was easier to coordinate back in 1984, the year the family began the Jacksonport Thanksgiving tradition, when they all lived between Kohler and Sheboygan. Now they travel across the country, from Atlanta to St. Paul and Illinois, to reunite in Door County.
The tradition started with the Cinealis family and their godparents traveling up to Door County for the long weekend. Kristine Cinealis, David’s sister, was in elementary school at the time and remembers the trip being a big event. Thirty years ago, there were three families with 13 people. That has since jumped to 24 people joining in on the holiday. Once kids in 1984, the brother and sister have since had kids of their own and the numbers keep going up.
It was important to keep all those kids busy on Thanksgiving Eve while parents and family members could catch up on their infrequent reunion. “One year we had the kids make puppets, write a play and perform it for the adults… It was a good way to keep them entertained,” said David Cinealis.
Yet it wasn’t until his visit to the dentist that his family’s participation in the parade began. “I was sitting in the dentist chair and on the wall in front of me was a list of 100 things you need to do before you die. One of them said, ‘If you’re ever given the opportunity to be in a parade…DO IT!’” That year, the family got in touch with the Jacksonport parade coordinators Jeri Taylor and Mary Witteborg and took their place on Hwy 57 Thanksgiving morning.
“The first year we just showed up with our candy bags,” said Kristine. Since then, the family has built a reputation as having some of the best themes in the parade, earning them an award in 2013 for the best entry. Between matching t-shirts, banners and posters of what they are each thankful for, the family invests in this project that has become a new part of their 30-year tradition. The parents are also happy for the Thanksgiving Eve distraction for the kids.
While it is a fun and quirky event, the Jacksonport Parade and Benefit also serves as a fundraiser for various causes throughout the county. It began in 1996 simply as a way to break up a day filled with eating and drinking. A few years later, following the big turnout, the organizers realized they had the opportunity to make an impact in their community.
Past parade recipients have included Feed My People, breast cancer research and the Jacksonport Fire Department. This year, the proceeds will go toward Maggie DeMeuse, a Door County resident who faced her second cancer diagnosis this fall.
Doctors diagnosed DeMeuse with breast cancer 10 years after her first battle with the disease. Still living in Door County, DeMeuse looks to her family, friends and community for support. The Jacksonport Parade raises funds throughout the year but capitalizes on Thanksgiving Day with donation buckets and a raffle shortly following the parade.
The Cinealis family appreciates the importance of the fundraiser and educates the kids about why they are donating their time and energy to make for an exciting event. “The fact that it’s a benefit for someone in need gave a real purpose to our project. We let the kids know who we are raising money for each year and why. They would then work to include the name of the person in posters or on t-shirts that they created,” said David.
Past themes include “Keep Calm and Give Thanks” and “Packers Stuff the Lions” in honor of the football matchup later that afternoon. This year, the party will be sporting hard hats and goggles to resemble characters from the popular movie Despicable Me. Seventeen family members and friends will be marching down the road while, “the rest of the group will be having margaritas at JJ’s,” joked David.
This year, the family reunion will be colored differently after the passing of Kristine and David’s mother earlier this year. Despite the difficult time, changing the annual Jacksonport Thanksgiving was never in question. “The parents really wanted the tradition to continue. I know my mom would want us to be there,” said Kristine.
The Cinealis family is joined by their godparents’ family as well as friends from Illinois. Their tradition has grown to involve more than just their own. Kristine sees this as an important part of their Thanksgiving. “We may not be family by blood, but we’re family because we do this together.”
The 18th edition of the parade will take place on Thanksgiving Day at 10:30 am. The parade will feature businesses and groups like the Cinealis clan in support of the Jacksonport community and charities they sponsor.