BEVERLY — The South Side Irish Parade has always been about the community and family for Chris Lynch, ever since he first came as a child.
Sunday, those lines began to blur as Lynch held his 2-year-old daughter Mary Cate, who suffers from Apert Syndrome, at the beginning of the parade that began at the 103rd Street and marched south on Western Avenue. Lynch's family was honored to be one of several marching with the Mulliganeers as Grand Marshal of the parade.
"This is just a reflection on the South Side community of how tight knit it is," Lynch said. "We’re here with the Mulliganeers and they’re supporting our daughter but the whole southside is supporting our daughter."
The nonprofit focused on "giving kids a second chance" has raised over $4.5 million for more than 260 kids and their families since they were created in 1995. The family was grateful for the financial support when Mary Cate was diagnosed with the rare disease, but the most important support has been emotional, Lynch said.
"They’re all about helping any family that needs the help and wants to do great by their kids, that’s why it's great," Lynch said, adding the group represents a lot of the same values the community wanted when they restored the parade in 2012 after cancelling it in 2010.
"They really reflect the same thing: community and values and supporting one another. Everybody comes together especially when someone’s sick or needs help. That’s what [the parade] represents to us. Its just the kind of community that is on the southside," he said.
The 36th annual parade featured 99 participants and an estimated 150,000 spectators, including six marching bands, seven pipe bands, three Irish dance troupes, six South Side high school state champions and three Olympic athletes.
Olympic bronze medal-winning bobsledder Aja Evans felt the community aspect immediately when she returned to her native for the parade. The men's basketball team for Morgan Park High School, her alma mater, brought a huge sign for her to pose behind with the team.
Families gathered inside the Beverly Bank & Trust at 10258 S. Western and waited patiently to snap pictures with Evans, silver medal hockey plaery Kendall Coyne, and speedskater Emery Lehman, who all competed for Team USA in the Winter Olympics.
"It's humbling," Evans said. "I never really came out here [for the parade] because I've lived in different parts of Chicago. It's going to be fun though this is my first time participating in a parade like this."
Evans wasn't the only one excited to celebrate the accomplishment of the Olympics closer to home. Lehman, the 17-year-old speedskater from Oak Park, was also excited to hear the genuine applause of the familiar crowd.
"Being home, there's a lot more people I grew up with, a lot more people know where I came from and know what I did when I was younger, not just know what I did when at the Olympics," Lehman said. "It's definitely a lot more sincere when you're back home."
Lehman remembered the excitement of attending as many St. Patrick's Day parades as he could growing up and hoped his presence would inspire kids in attendance the same way.
"When you're younger you always dream about going in parades or just small stuff like that that means a lot to little kids," Lehman said. "I definitely think it's really cool for me to be out there and hopefully inspired other kids to want to be in the parade.... or maybe speed skate, right?"
Police reported no notable incidents during the family-friendly affair.