Everybody loves a parade.

There's no definitive source on who delivered the famous line, but it does pose the question: Do they really?

That's a hard yes, says John O'Donnell, whose company, O'Donnell & O'Donnell, founded the Colorado Springs St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1985.

The 34th annual ritual happens at noon Saturday along Tejon Street downtown.

With that question answered, the next one is why?

"It's free," said O'Donnell. But there's more to it than that.

"We really do like to act like a town. Particularly because of the military population and retired folks, there are people from all over the planet, and this brings our town together to celebrate one thing."

Up to 25,000 green-clad people have filled downtown for the 60- to 90-minute event since 2007, when it was moved from Old Colorado City to the more crowd-friendly downtown streets at the request of the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Through the years, the parade has entertained some top-notch grand marshals, including former Gov. Roy Romer, former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace and Pam Shockley-Zalabak, former chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. This year's face of the parade is Tara Sevanne Thomas, director of the Bemis School of Art at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

"It's an extreme honor to be chosen as this year's grand marshal," said Thomas. "We've (Bemis School of Art) done so many things to support underserved populations through art that it's wonderful to bring some attention to what we do. Programs like our Military Artistic Healing have saved lives, changed lives and developed new connections in our community."

This year's event will feature 105 to 110 entries and 1,500 to 2,000 participants, with car and motorcycle clubs, marching bands, floats, dog clubs and, for the second or third time in the parade's history, the Air Force Academy Drum & Bugle Corps.

O'Donnell also doesn't shy away from including political groups, a decision he came to after learning the history behind the holiday.

"There were two to three major economic and political events in Ireland that pushed people out," he said. "They were starving to death, and they came to the U.S.

"Like a lot of immigrant nationalists, they wound up in their own neighborhoods. They would have marches, and they were celebratory in some respects, but also protest marches in other respects, like for economic quality. That's why I let political people in. It's a celebrating of community in one respect, and the other thing is it does give a little political twist to it."

A&E and features reporter

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