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'Waukesha Strong' on full display at Christmas parade 1 year after tragedy

This year's Waukesha Christmas Parade proved to be a beautiful, uplifting community event.
Posted at 8:55 AM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 13:26:46-05

WAUKESHA, Wis. — The community of Waukesha, Wisconsin, came together Sunday to support each other at the annual Christmas parade, one year after a man killed six people when he drove through the crowd.

It was everything a Christmas parade should be. There was caroling in the crowd, smiling, family photos, and kids scrambling for candy.

We saw happy babies and festive animals. Comfort dogs walked the route to give spectators love.

There was even an appearance by Santa Clause, Mrs. Clause, and the reindeer.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Santa said. “Merry Christmas!”

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But the biggest impact came from others in the parade. The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies were led by family members holding photos of the teammates they lost in the parade last year. A nurse who helped treat some of the injured walked with them. She was assigned to carry a box of tissues.

“I wanted to help, so they made me part of their emotional support crew,” said Nicole Steinbergs, who works in the Emergency Room at Aurora Summit Medical Center. “I treated one of the injured Grannies. I was in the ER last year during the parade, so being here tonight is full circle. I had to see them here. There are so many tears, and so much emotion. They’re so awesome.”

Other groups that have overcome so much in the past year and chose to walk in the parade again include The Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team and the Waukesha Blazers Baseball Team, who gathered to honor the Sparks family. Jackson Sparks, 8, was the youngest victim of the parade attack.

"We’re getting through it, and we’ll always be stronger together,” said parade attack survivor Tyler Pudleiner. “We are Waukesha Strong.”

The Waukesha South High School band also had a big showing. Students created a float for some band members to ride on. It included Erik Tiegs and other teens who made miraculous recoveries over the past year. Dozens of band program alumni walked with them.

“Waukesha South meant a lot to me when I was a student,” said Marcus Westphal, who graduated in 2012. “Especially the band program. It’s like a family. We all wanted to support current band members tonight.”

Sitting proudly in the crowd was Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow and the winning prosecution team from the District Attorney’s Office.

“We absolutely felt the need to be here,” said Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper. “There’s a lot of joy and love in the air. It’s nice to feel that.”

“It’s like a dream,” said Don Schafer, a spectator from West Allis. “It’s emotional. I don’t cry very often, but I had to cry tonight.”

There was support around every corner. The Evangelical & Reformed United Church of Christ, along the parade route, invited the community to pray together before it started.

A Waukesha Boy Scout Troop stayed after the parade to help pick up garbage left on the street.

“Just to give organizers a hand,” said Robbie Lewandowski, a 6th grader at Horning Middle School. “It feels good to help."

Waukesha Strong was on full display.

Katie Crowther at TMJ4 first reported this story.