October 25, 2021

The cream of Cortland

Main St. parade celebrates the area’s dairy roots

Photos by Michael McCleary/contributing photographer

What would the Dairy Parade be without a cow? This docile bovine brought joy to children in the crowd.

Jerry Walborn of Elmira walked down Main Street, Cortland on Tuesday with a cart full of knick-knacks and toys. Now 44, Walborn has been coming to the same parade, with the same cart for all his life.

His dad started his own cart 57 years ago and Walborn took over after he retired. His dad died March 4, but Walborn keeps his cart going. He travels on weekends, mostly, and travels from parade to parade. He makes the cart his full-time job.

Kids jumped at the sight of the cotton candy and stuffed animals that hung from the bars on the cart. Walborn hunched over and grinned slightly.

“I’ve been coming here for a long time,” Walborn said at the Dairy Parade.

Hundreds of residents of the greater Cortland area crowded Main Street for the parade, a celebration of Cortland’s dairy industry. The dairy industry — Cornell Cooperative Extension estimated Cortland County’s total milk sales were $41.7 million — has become dominated by big industry, but the Dairy Parade is a reminder of Cortland’s roots.

The parade brought out scouts, baseball teams and softball teams, youth groups and libraries, politicians and police officers. A state Supreme Court nominee rode on a cart dragged by a tractor, girls nominated for the title of Dairy Princess rode in cars and marchers threw candy to children in the crowd. The parade was a celebration of everything that was local.

“They get the kids involved more than other parades,” said Mark Lamphere of Moravia. “They’re having fun. Everyone’s having fun.”

Lamphere has come to the parade for the past five years to watch his daughters play in the Moravia marching band. It hasn’t changed much since he came for the first time: He sees many of the same people, he notices many of the same organizations and businesses. The only difference: There are always new politicians.

For Michael Tonkowicz and Jane Phillips, mentioning the Dairy Parade to people outside of Cortland often draws confused looks. Originally from Philadelphia, this is the third time Tonkowicz has watched the parade and Phillips joined him for the second time. Places in the city had Memorial Day parades and others, but in a city the size of Philadelphia, Tonkowicz didn’t recognize anybody.

“You don’t see something like this in Philadelphia,” he said.

Over the years, the parade has gotten more fun for the couple as they found people to watch for. Tonkowicz met Norm Stitzel through his church, and he was excited to cheer Stitzel on as Stitzel carried the U.S. flag with the U.S. Military Color Guard.

Children smiled, announcers blared names and people cheered as each marcher passed by.

As Walborn walked with his cart toward the starting line of the parade, children flocked toward him. He stopped and waited for their parents to join them. This is his livelihood. When you come to a place for so long, he said, you start to feel “sentimental feelings.” Tuesday, Cortland residents celebrated with him.