There’s no doubt that for Key Biscayners, the biggest day of the year is the 4th of July. It seems like the whole community is lined up on Crandon Boulevard. We greet neighbors and former residents we haven’t seen in a while, hear about news about pets, children, and vacation plans. But the parade is the main event! We marvel as the jets fly overhead and applaud the passing floats, decorated bicycles, stilts and marching bands.
Over the generations, the character of the parade has changed. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Parade Committee wore red blazers with white safari helmets and met at the bar inside the Key Biscayne hotel. The master of ceremonies at that time was Wendy Crowder. Pete Roff was president and held the troops in line with a cigar in one hand and a cocktail in the other.
In the late 70s, Key Rats weren’t always appreciated as they are today. The term was generally pejorative and referred to a segment of the island’s young population considered by some to be delinquents.
One year the RATS tried to register a float for the parade but was denied entry. Undaunted, they built a homemade float adorned with palm fronds and submitted their paperwork using a harmless-sounding alias: Resident Arts Tropical Society. Then in the middle of the parade, like a real pirate ship, they flipped the tank panel over to reveal “Key Rats”. The prank seemed pretty shocking at the time, but it was all fun.
Despite a few changes to the Key’s 4th of July activities over the years, there have always been a few reliable constants: the parade always starts at 11 a.m., the day always ends with a fireworks display, and Federico Padovan always puts on a creative – and often award-winning – entry. Federico took part in 47 consecutive parades, winning the most beautiful six times and the most patriotic 34 times. This is a record that will probably never be broken.
Federico had personal reasons for entering the parade for the first time in 1976. “I was born in Italy and we had just moved here from Uruguay,” he explains. “I wanted my 10-year-old daughter, Paola, to receive the patriotic spirit for the United States. We decorated two bikes and rode in the parade together. I still have her picture with the Liberty Bell theme design. This entry would win the prize for the most beautiful bike.
“My father has always been extremely patriotic and we have participated in the July 4 parade as far as I can remember,” recalls Paola Padovan-Hall. “When we moved to this country, he immediately fell in love with all things America and raised me to be all-American. My dad had a great career in the auto industry – that’s is a one of a kind character and my brother and I are proud to be his children.
Federico’s son, Fredy, appeared in his first parade at the age of 10 months and since then has appeared in all but one parade.
“My father started me young,” recalls Fredy. “As soon as a show is over, they start thinking about themes for the following year. We revise the plan multiple times until the final concept materializes within 60-90 days. I have so many great memories of buying decorations and learning from him what materials go best with what adhesives, how to use tools, and building structures out of random objects.
Federico, who turns 86 in August, describes his parade entries as “a creative mental exercise” and credits them for maintaining his youthfulness. This year’s entry was a heavily decorated red-white-blue bicycle covered in miniature American flags and an Uncle Sam figure on the handlebars. Paola and Fredy and various family members rode in a golf cart behind their father.
“And the judges were duly impressed with Federico’s entry this year as Federico took home the award for Best Bike/Golf Cart.
Congratulations to everyone who made this year’s parade unforgettable.