Standing out in the heat of Friday, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for our town’s homecoming parade.
Even though the sunshine made the chocolate candy melt before the kids could get it out of the wrapper, our town lined about a mile of street near downtown Mahomet for a moment of celebration.
My family has been part of this tradition for almost 12 years now. Each year, even though most years it’s hot, my children have enjoyed walking with their friends, I have enjoyed talking to friends I do not get to see every day and we have enjoyed hearing the cheers and giggles of people we have never formally met.
The homecoming parade is a string in the fabric that makes Mahomet Mahomet.
As I watched this year’s parade, though, a bit of fear creeped into my eyes, and I recognized the chance that this could be our town’s last homecoming parade as we know it.
You see, the homecoming parade used to be slightly different. Pre-K and kindergarten students who attended Middletown Elementary lined Division Street. And when they moved out to Middletown Prairie, they are now bused out to the site.
Next year, first and second grade students who are now at Sangamon will be at Middletown Prairie, too. And so, the question becomes, what happens to our homecoming parade? Will the district continue to bus those students out to Main Streeet? Do we lose that leg of our parade? Or does the parade become another memory in the minds of old Mahomet residents?
I actually do not know the answer to this question. But it crossed my mind.
Recently, I have been thinking about the Mahomet we moved to 15 years ago and the Mahomet I live in today. It’s actually a very different town.
Maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a bad thing. Again, I don’t know. And maybe that’s just the way things go when a town grows.
Prior to moving here, my in-laws brought my sister to Mahomet so she could attend Mahomet-Seymour High School. My father-in-law had been transferred to Thomasboro. They fell in love with the Mahomet-Seymour marching band and knew that she would get a solid education here.
While their home was being built more than 18 years ago, I visited with my then boyfriend.
There wasn’t much here. My father-in-law loved the botanical gardens and my mother-in-law enjoyed frequenting the little antique store that is now JT Walkers. While they shopped at Meijer, they knew to purchase their meat at Mahomet IGA because the quality was just better.
I remember one time I came to visit right after Thanksgiving. The Tietz family was traveling back from Nebraska where their extended family lives, and I arrived early. Because I couldn’t get into the house, I had to find somewhere to hang out for a little bit.
Like I said, there wasn’t much here, so I stopped at Subway, which was where the Ohana Pools store is-next to CVS. I sat there and talked to the owner for a bit.
Because of people like my in-laws, this town has grown drastically since I first visited in 1999. Since then the in-village population has nearly doubled. And with additional outlying growth, our population is around just around 14,000 people.
These are people who came for a program, came for an education for their kids, for a safe community, for a quiet community, for a place to run or hike or play.
When there is a population growth, local governments say that the residents need amenities. Maybe it’s a restaurant or a place to shop. With new establishments, the local government gets additional tax dollars-which may or may not benefit the local people.
And with new buildings, new growth, new opportunities and amenities, the landscape of a town changes. We tear down schools, we build new schools, we create bigger libraries, we get rid of old traditions and build new traditions.
And maybe this is the part that I’m really grieving. The old traditions and the new traditions.
When my littles were little, there was a rhythm to this town that made us a community. Our identity wasn’t a population number or the amount of amenities we had. Our identity was in how we gathered.
Each school year was kicked off with back to school registration. This wasn’t just a time when parents wrote checks and signed up for the bus, but it was a time when a community reconnected with friends they hadn’t seen for a couple months and with staff that they loved.
Then families gathered at the door of the school to see who their teacher was going to be and who was in the same class.
The PTO hosted a back-to-school night where the kids could gather and meet their teacher, see their old classmates, meet their new classmates and dance and play and run.
Then there was the Dawg Walk where raised money for the school and then all met out at Lake of the Woods to walk with our kids as they got popsicles and then came back for a dance party.
Mr. Cabutti led the storybook parade at Halloween with his big smile and a group of teachers not far behind with their students proudly displaying their costume based off of a book. Lincoln Trail students would walk downtown so their parents could also see their costumes…and the junior high came too.
The Sangamon River Music Festival used to be less about big acts and more about spending time together with great music. It literally was a parade, a small stage with small local bands and people plopping down in a lawn chair to sit and talk to their friends.
When the kids were little, I was also part of the Mahomet Town and Country Women’s Club for a couple years, too. While digging through the club’s history, I found more examples of how this community used to gather, whether it was just to socialize, support an organization or celebrate. The club hosted a fashion show, tea parties and worked hard to make the Mahomet Public Library a reality.
I understand why things change. I understand that sometimes there are reasons towns change. Just like I understand why we no longer have a beach or a giant slide at the Lake of the Woods. But I think there is a reason why that photo is shared so much-because people want a place or a way to gather with their neighbors and friends.
I often wondered if old Mahomet residents missed the way Mahomet used to be before the residential growth boom.
I don’t have any answers to my own questions, but I have questions and part of me is a little sad that our community is changing.
We were a small and quiet community. I’m not sure what type of value that holds, but as we grow and change and become something different, I will say that that community held value for me. I miss it.