The 24th annual Parade of Lights will take onlookers on a worldly journey this Thursday evening without ever leaving Downtown Lodi.

Each year local businesses and nonprofits volunteer to decorate a float that embodies the theme selected by the Kiwanis Club — the event’s organizer — and this year’s theme is “around the world.”

Kiwanis member Chet Somera said this year’s parade will have 77 floats illuminating the streets of Lodi.

“This year we have some new floats and walking groups joining the parade, and the elementary school physical education teachers will rejoin us,” Somera said.

There will be floats representing the Marine Corps, Twinkle Toe Dance Studio, Raptor Force Engineering Team, and Grayson Engineering, along with other service groups, high schools and local public safety agencies.

This year the parade’s grand marshal will be Art Schimke, a World War II veteran who celebrated his 100th birthday this past April.

“We selected Art because he has a very unique story, and he is a decorated war hero who received two Purple Hearts,” Somera said.

Born near Franklin in 1919, Schimke was one of nine children. He grew up hunting with his brothers and was living in Alpine County — where he still owns a hunting cabin — when in 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

Part of the 10th Mountain Division, Schimke spent most of the war in Italy where he rose to the rank of the first sergeant. Despite being shot twice, he survived until the war ended and he was able to take his men on a tour of the battlefield in a C-47 airplane.

“We really like to honor someone that is deserving of the recognition,” Somera said.

The parade will also feature a float with Joey Travolta and the cast of Carol of the Bells — a full-length feature film created by Inclusion Films, which premieres in Lodi tonight.

According to Somera, there will be five announcing booths positioned throughout the parade route, with one Spanish-speaking booth located at Lodi Avenue and School Street.

Somera added that the Kiwanis Club has reserved seating for people with physical limitations on the 200 block of Elm Street.

“We have also increased the amount of food vendors on Church Street and Lodi Avenue because we get so many folks that come out every year and some restaurants in downtown cant facilitate the crowd,” Somera said.

Somera said the parade draws an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people from Lodi and neighboring cities.

“Lockeford Sausage will be out here, along with vendors selling Greek food, pizza, and just about everything else you can think of,” he said.

Somera has assisted with the Parade of Lights since 1995 when he attended as a member of the Lodi Police Department and volunteered with planning and working the parade.

“I really love helping put this on for the community, because it kicks off the season and it means so much to people in this town,” said Somera, who noted that the event would not be possible without the support of sponsors.

This year's parade sponsors include, Food-4-Less, Ranch San Miguel, Lodi Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, Cherokee Memorial Park and Funeral Home, Sanborn Chevrolet, Revel Lodi, Clark Pest Control, Waste Management, Lodi Chamber of Commerce and E.F. Kludt and Sons.

IF YOU GO

What: Lodi Parade of Lights

When: Thursday, Dec. 5, 6:17 p.m.

Where: The parade route will begin on Church Street and move south towards Lodi Avenue, then north towards Locust Street and finish east on Sacramento Street.

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