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Thousands celebrate Pioneer Day at downtown parade

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands flocked downtown Saturday morning to enjoy one of the largest and oldest parades in the U.S. — the Days of '47 Parade.

Not only has this parade become a celebrated Utah tradition, but it has also become an annual event for 100-year-old Della Pantos.

"I like parades," Pantos said, "and I like to celebrate how my mom and dad settled in Utah."

Pantos, who was born and raised in Green River, has attended the Days of '47 Parade more than 70 times.

"I don't know why, but I enjoy it," she said.

Pantos said she hopes to be back next year so she can continue her tradition of crying as all of the servicemen go by.

Sitting next to Pantos' family was a 70-year-old grandmother who camps out before the parade every year with her grandkids. She always saves a seat in the front for Pantos.

Another family along the parade route had been there since noon Friday.

Saturday was Ardell Gillespie's 78th birthday, and she wanted to go to the parade. So daughter D'Nell Gillespie, 32, camped along State Street with niece Mary Christensen, 15, nephew Joshua Christensen, 12, and a few hundred other people.

"It was like a giant hobo convention," Mary Christensen said. "It was great."

Joshua made it clear that he didn't sleep, though.

"I drank seven cans of Mountain Dew to get through it, but I would probably do it again," he said.

Ardell Gillespie had only been to the Pioneer Day parade a few times before. When she turned 50, she made everyone come to the parade, so when she was asked what to do for her 78th birthday by D'Nell Gillespie, she was sure she wanted to go to the parade again.

"I hated (Pioneer Day) on my birthday because I could never have a party," Ardell Gillespie said jokingly.

Many families camp out on the street the night before to ensure the perfect view for Saturday's parade. Coveted spots in the shade went fast and filled to capacity. More than six rows of camp chairs and hundreds of people filled one corner that was sheltered by a nearby building along the parade route.

Vuvuzelas, made famous during the World Cup in South Africa, filled the air with noise and enthusiasm as the parade began.

Multiple awards were given to floats.

The Spirit of Faith Award went to the LDS Salt Lake Central Stake's quilt-covered float, "Global Warming." The LDS Salt Lake Wasatch Stake's "Canyon Water Sustains Life" float received the Sweepstakes Award for its images of mining and water in the mountains. A Chinese dragon weaving through some of Utah's National Parks earned the Mayor's Award for the Chinese Society of Utah.

The Outstanding Animation Awards and People's Choice Award went to the LDS Murray Parkway Stake, whose float showed cartoon-like seagulls cooking and baking Mormon crickets as they turned "trials into treats."

The only other float to win two awards was Primary Children's Medical Center's rendition of Dreamworks' "How To Train Your Dragon." The hospital received both the President's Award and the Children's Choice Award.

The Copper Hills Marching Band, one of 12 bands in the parade, stood out with its dance moves and by entertaining the crowd with Lady Gaga tunes. Then, as Army Reservists went marching by, people lining the streets stood and cheered their support.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was among dignitaries who waved to cheering crowds during the parade. Others included Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett.

And multiple clowns and performers kept the kids smiling.

When all was said and done, as the diverse crowd dispersed into the city, nearly everyone was smiling.