LAKEVIEW — It started with a 5-foot flag pole.
Fifty years ago, Al Weisman's neighbor on Oakdale Avenue gave him one as a gift, and he was faced with a decision: He could just hang it out a window, or he could hold it up and march around the neighborhood with local children.
So he rounded up less than 10 neighborhood kids, including his son Tony. A girl who played violin strummed the only song she knew, the Israeli national anthem "Hatikva."
Together they marched, and a tradition was born: the WOOGMS parade, or the Wellington Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society, where the mantra "everybody marches, nobody watches" meant the youngsters were the stars, Tony Weisman said.
"We were really at the center of attention," he said. "That was really a wild feeling. Parades, at that point, were things you watched."
On Memorial Day, the parade will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Early marchers — from the son of the man who designed the parade's logo to that neighbor who first gave Weisman a flag — will be going to Lakeview to reunite for a parade that has long been heralded as a small town activity in a big city.
The parade eventually ballooned, attracting hundreds of children and parents when it is held on Sheridan Road every Memorial Day and Labor Day. Al Weisman died in 1973, and Tony took over leading the parade just as he turned 13.
"I don't think he envisioned it lasting 50 years," he said of his father.
Kids who marched in early parades grew up and brought their own kids, including alums like Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cubs general counsel Mike Lufrano. Jesse White, now Illinois Secretary of State, offered up his tumblers and drum corps a few years after the march started, and he still regularly attends.
"Al was the kind of guy that made life fun," said Joan Lufrano, Mike's mother, who worked for Al Weisman at the time of the parade and marched in the first one. "When he said, 'We're going to do this, come,' everybody he invited came."
Early on, the parade — called OOGMS until the Weismans moved to Wellington — included events that raised a small amount of money for charity. Proceeds from barbecues in the Weismans' back yard went to the J.F.K Library in Boston, rewarded with a thank you note from Jackie Onassis, Weisman said.
One year, Al Weisman bought a World War II Norden bombsight — used to accurately drop bombs — put it at the top of a six-foot ladder in front of Oakdale and charged kids a quarter to look through it, Lufrano said, listing it as one of her favorite memories.
The money went to buy little flags for future parades.
"That always struck me as being a real winning idea," she said with a laugh. "There must have been 100 kids that walked up."
Over the years, the little events disappeared, and WOOGMS dropped a Fourth of July and Halloween parade. But the core idea has stayed the same: everybody marches; no politics; just patriotism.
It sought to connect children to the country — and to instill a sense of attachment to the flag that they would eventually pass along to their children, too.
"We are doing a civic duty," Weisman said, "by making another generation feel somewhat more connected to the flag and everything it stands for."
The WOOGMS Parade kicks off at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day at Pine Grove and Wellington, ending at St. Joseph's Hospital. Strollers, bikes and wheelchairs are welcome.