In the muggy heat of the Fourth of July morning — as bicycles and tricycles, scooters and strollers gather in a tiny neighborhood park near the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus — Kori quietly accepts the reality of what this day means for her.

This year, it means glittery red, white and blue butterfly wings from the Dollar Store strapped around her middle and a tiny, similarly-colored top hat listing to the side of the English pointer-Lab mix’s head.

“We do this to her every year, so she’s getting used to it,” said Mindy Weis, Kori’s owner and a 15-year resident of the East campus neighborhood that boasts a small green space called Idylwild Park.

Kori is stoic, or resigned. It’s hard to tell. But she’s also part of a neighborhood tradition dating back nearly 45 years — maybe 47, depending on who’s doing the math.

Mary Belka grew up here and was part of the Fourth of July parades as a child. Like many residents, she said, she grew up, moved away for a decade or two, then came back. Like others who live here today, she bought her parents’ house and remodeled it years later.

“It’s a great neighborhood,” she said. “It’s kind of a jewel-box neighborhood.”

Among the things that bind the jewel box together are annual traditions such as the Fourth of July parade.

Sophia Mumgaard got her first taste of ice cream at the parade when she was 17 months old. This year, the 16-year-old is busy handing out bags of candy before the parade begins.

The celebration's beginnings trace back to Marceil Dreier, who got things started when she took her then 3-year-old son Frank to the circus — and he decided he wanted one of those.

So he got one — in the front yard of their home, a small event that grew into a big event complete with costumes and makeup, a PA system and circus acts performed by the neighborhood kids. The Kool-Aid stand raised $2.98 the first year, and over the next six, raised enough to donate $1,000 to the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.

The mayor came years ago, so did a secretary of state and a governor — often because they had grandkids participating.

“It doesn’t matter how prominent you are in the community,” Dreier said. “If your grandkids are in it, you’re there.”

A few years in they added a parade and after the Dreiers decided seven years as ringmasters (and reseeding the front lawn) were enough, the circus ended. The parade continued, though it lapsed for a few years until residents got it started again and the East Campus Community Organization took over planning.

Frank Dreier, now 50, is still here. His son is earning Cub Scout points by helping his dad guard the street cones.

Dan Warren, who grew up here, still brings his kids back each year, along with one of the bikes from his Pedal Pushers business. This year, it pulled honoree Tom Madsen, who owns Madsen’s Bowling and Billiards.

Marceil Dreier, as always, is here.

“I’m 92 years old and I wouldn’t miss it,” she said.

This year, 11-year-old Mattie Fuller and her dad lead the parade as it snakes through the neighborhood. Her bike — adorned with streamers and ribbons — pulls a small bike-sized trailer carrying an air-filled Uncle Sam.

She’s been doing this since she was a year old, figuring out how to top last year’s decorations.

“It’s something to look forward to, to pull the bike, show people what you think and support your country,” she said.

She arrives back at the park first, followed by the bicycles and tricycles and the patriotic T-shirt-wearing marchers who head for the freshly cut watermelon, then line up for the balloon toss and the three-legged race.

Kori is there, too, holding court in a covered metal structure called Valentino’s Trolley, still donning the butterfly wings, doing her part to uphold a neighborhood tradition.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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