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Oatka Festival parade to include special banner to remember past chairman 'Sully'

By Joanne Beck
Oatka Festival parade
2023 File Photo of Oatka Festival parade in Le Roy by Howard Owens.

As organizers head into the 34th annual Oatka Festival, this year will bring a heartening measure meant to honor a former longtime parade chairman and add another layer of tradition for festivals to come.

There will be a new banner in memory of Robert “Sully” Sullivan, carried by his family members, as part of the walk from the American Legion to the front of the old high school and Trigon Park. The parade is set to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday in Le Roy.

Robert Sullivan
Robert "Sully" Sullivan

“Sully made the parade a big deal because it starts off the festival, he really worked hard for people to come together and enjoy it,” Parade Chairman Scott Ripley said to The Batavian about the late Robert Sullivan. “He didn’t take any feedback, it was do it the Sully way … not telling anybody what to do until the day of the parade. When Sully said something, it was done and that’s the way it went.”

While that might sound like a stubborn leader, his system actually worked well, Ripley said, because telling groups where they were stationed ahead of time allowed them time to argue or debate, vying for different spots in the lineup.

Sullivan commanded a type of respect that participants honored throughout his two decades or so of being at the helm of the festival parade.

Sully was also a straight shooter; maybe that came from his days of coaching football. The banner was colored with black and red, “very basic,” event Chair Kate Flint said, as “he wasn’t very frilly, but he was very unique and genuine.”

“He was chairman from the very beginning until 2021,” Flint said. “He always wanted to throw the best and biggest parade ever.”

He was also a tad old-fashioned, eschewing texts for talking to people by phone to communicate. It was all for the greater good, Ripley said.

See Also: Old favorites, new twists and lots of food and fun at 34th annual Oatka Festival

“He started with the parade around 1990; he wanted to help the festival be the best it could be,” Ripley said. “He was with the Mighty St. Joe’s marching band, and he could get more bands.”

Sullivan was a longtime director of both St. Joe’s Drum & Bugle Corps and Mighty St. Joe’s Alumni Corps and Drum Corps Associates Hall of Fame. His musical roots also traveled to Batavia, where he was a 1950 Batavia High School graduate and later a 2019 BHS Music Hall of Fame inductee.

Ripley caught Sully’s eye while serving as announcer for Le Roy’s Little League, and he was tapped to help out with the parade in 2018. He continued forward, taking on the chairman position a few years ago.

Sullivan died in May 2022, and Ripley has taken a page or two out of his success manual, adding on to this year’s parade with the Buffalo Bills official drumline DownBeat Percussion, lining up eight Genesee County bands and eight floats from Le Roy class reunions, from 1964 to 2004. 

Even unlikely participants have joined, such as car and gutter cleaning businesses, a roof siding establishment, Five Star Bank, and Geneseo Air Museum will have a replica airplane float.

Old favorites are returning, including the Shriners and their tiny cars, he said.

“I’m trying to make it so Sully would be proud,” Ripley said. 

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