It’s safe to say there might not have been a Wellington Holiday Parade without Dennis Witkowski.
The highly anticipated annual event was his brainchild, inspired by the parades of his boyhood in Woodbridge, N.J. When the Palms West Chamber of Commerce — now the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce — formed in 1983 with Witkowski as a founding board member, he took the idea for a grand parade to his peers.
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“I convinced my chamber board that we needed to have an event in Wellington that would represent the holidays and bring the western communities together,” he said ahead of this year’s parade — the 34th edition — that begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday on Forest Hill Boulevard.
“I laid out the parade route and in the 34 years, it’s never changed,” he said of the path down Forest Hill from its northern intersection with Wellington Trace to the Wellington Amphitheater. “I’m really proud of the fact that I got it right the first time,” he added, laughing.
The parade has become one of the hallmarks of Wellington’s holiday celebration, with groups from throughout Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee and Greenacres participating. Signature sponsors, including the Schumacher Family of Dealerships and Wellington Regional Medical Center, continue to take part.
And through it all, there is Witkowski.
“This parade is so special and near and dear to his hear, so he gives it his all,” said Mary Lou Bedford, CEO of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber, which partners with Wellington each year to put on the parade. “We’re just so thrilled to have him at the helm because he is the perfect chairman.”
Witkowski, who owns Stadium Grill in Jupiter’s Abacoa, has held a slew of positions on community boards throughout the years, including president of the Boys & Girls Club of Palm Beach County, president of the Palms West Chamber and logistics chairman for the local American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
“He’s that great example of someone who is able to do it all, give of his time and still be a great husband and father and businessman,” Bedford said.
The longtime parade chairman called the parade “just the best day of the year” for Wellington and the western communities.
“I think it’s beyond being a tradition,” he said. “It’s become an institution.”
Witkowski, who enjoyed those New Jersey parades decades ago as a young man, now finds joy in seeing “the youngest members of our community” participate in the parade.
“The pride in their parents and their family and their grandparents and their neighbors — it brings such a warm feeling to my heart and I know to everybody’s heart,” he said.
Now, Witkowski watches the expressions on the faces of the youngest members of his family: his four grandchildren, who will attend Sunday’s parade.
“I always loved a parade, and I’m so happy that it’s thrived the way it has in our community and that it’s so widely accepted,” he said. “I know the parade will last long after I’m gone. That’s very rewarding for me.”
If you go
What: 34th annual Wellington Holiday Parade
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Theme: “A World of Make Believe”
Grand marshalls: Representatives of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
Special guests: Pitcher for the World Series champion Houston Astros Brad Peacock, and 99-year-old World War II veteran James Zell
Route: Starts at original Wellington Mall at the corner of Forest Hill Boulevard’s northern intersection with Wellington Trace, then proceeds down Forest Hill to the Wellington Amphitheater complex.
Road closures: One eastbound lane of Forest Hill will close at 8 a.m., then all of Forest Hill will close at 1 p.m. from its northern intersection with Wellington Trace to South Shore Boulevard.