Dori Rankinen, South Williamsport Mummers Parade coordinator
You can call her the biggest cheerleader of the South Williamsport Mummers Parade. She also answers to team leader, community volunteer, and inspired (and inspiring) community member.
Over the past several years, the planning committee for the Mummers Parade has been led by one of the parade’s most enthusiastic organizers, Dori Rankinen. The parade’s spark plug works tirelessly year round to plan and stage a great event.
Rankinen and her team of volunteers had been working hard to bring the 75th anniversary of the Mummers Parade to fans this year. But Rankinen had to swallow hard and accept that, for the first time ever, the parade had to be cancelled. “We can’t (reschedule) it in the spring because everything is up in the air and we just have to wait and see,” said Rankinen.
As parade time got closer, safety concerns and the governor’s mandates took priority. After a borough council meeting in mid-August, Rankinen knew it was time to call it quits for this year. Time was simply running out and there was no good news in the near future that would change the outcome.
But one thing is for sure — people can count on Rankinen to lead the charge when the parade returns.
An emotional support teacher at Williamsport Area School District for 30 years before she retired five years ago, Rankinen considers herself optimistic, organized, and kind. She was accustomed to helping people to be the best they could be and had a can-do attitude every day of her career.
After she retired, Rankinen knew she wasn’t one to sit home and watch “Jeopardy” every day.
“I’m interested in having a servant heart and, if I see something that needs to be done, then I’m going to step out and do it,” she recounted. “The parade seemed to be a natural fit because I love to organize and I really love to encourage people and draw out their gifts.”
To that end, the Mummers’ Parade was a perfect fit. It needed her and she needed it.
These days, Rankinen is definitely not sitting home and watching TV. Every morning, she tends to the flowers near the borough offices in South Williamsport. Then she tends to her civic duties as a member of the DuBoistown Borough Council. She also works for an advocacy company that specializes in legal work for subscribers. Throughout the year, you can find her helping local organizations with a variety of projects.
In honor of the parade’s 75th milestone, additional activities had been added and will have to wait for now. After the parade, Rankinen said that a small carnival was planned to include circus acts, concession stands, and 3-4 kiddie rides. In addition, a fireworks display, set to music, was arranged for blast off from the South Williamsport Community Park.
One of the most important things Rankinen did in the past for the parade is to create a non-profit legal entity (a 501-C3) called the South Williamsport Area Mummers, Inc. It’s listed with the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable, arts and cultural organization. There is a board of eight directors and seven committee members.
These tireless folks solicit funds for the yearly celebration and tend to all of the details for parade day. The legal status of the Mummers organization allows for solicitation of funds and other important activities, like acceptance of bequests from wills and eligibility to apply for grant funding. It’s all about creating ways to solidify the parade’s existence in the future.
Rankinen remembers the days, not too long ago, when the parade was facing a permanent shut-down because of a lack of funding and helping hands. It’s a big job and, for most, a daunting one.
Parade planning starts each year the day after the parade marches. The logistics of a parade and its activities include finding a parade marshall responsible for the lineup and start of the parade; identifying organizations and bands marching in the parade; overseeing the creation of floats and lining up folks to donate candy which is thrown to parade watchers. Rankinen also secures insurance and organizes after-parade activities, vendors and concessions.
And there is still more for the organizer to do. Fundraising is necessary to pay the bills, which is a time consuming commitment. The list goes on. South Williamsport Borough Manager Steven W. Cappelli has been a big supporter, helping to ensure that so many of the things on the organizers’ lists happen.
And Cappelli is appreciative of Rankinen’s volunteer spirit.
“Dori is a tireless advocate for the parade,” he said. “She is a fundraiser and planner. She handles most of the marketing and is the primary person out there working to bring in bands and units to march in the parade. I can’t hail her enough for her energy and enthusiasm. She loves the community. She loves the event. And perhaps most importantly, she never looks for any recognition. She often stays behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting and, at the same time, crediting others for doing it. Dori’s batteries never seem to get drained. “
Rankinen mused about the scope of planning for each year’s celebration. She said, “You can’t make a plan when you are scared or agitated. So, if you just stay calm, there’s always some way to find someone to help. I may not be able to lift barricades or bleachers, for example, but others come and help because they can do it. So it’s learning to work with people to find their gifts and what they are willing to do and that’s how it all works out.”
This year’s theme would have been “Story Book” but it is too early to tell if that theme will move to 2021. No matter the theme, the goal is to provide a fun cohesive look, with 12 divisions of nine to 15 units each. Bands, floats, businesses, local celebrities, schools, dance academies, youngsters, senior citizens, and of course, mummers make up the parade lineup.
The parade even has a mascot — a black cat — which has made an appearance on the parade’s written materials the past four years. Last year, it graced a jack o’ lantern while wearing a crown.
Rankinen’s motto is, “Those who shine from within don’t need a spotlight.” On each parade day, the organizer slips into the background riding her bike along the two-mile parade route, relishing the excitement and smiles that are all part of the extravaganza. Last year, an estimated 17,000 spectators lined the parade route.
The parade organizer’s hard work is rewarded each year, when she sees what it’s like to be a child at the Mummers Parade. She also sees generations of families having BBQs in backyards together on parade day, which is a tradition. And then there are the grandmothers, who once marched in the parade with their high school band, who get to cheer on their grandchildren, as they march along with their high school band. All of it is a victory for Rankinen and her team.
Even in a year when the parade had to be cancelled, Rankinen believes it is vital to keep the Mummers Parade tradition alive.
“Be a part of something; leave it bigger and better than before,” she said.