Jack Schreppler, Hummers Parade “grand marshal for life” wants to fight to keep the parade going, which could mean him taking legal action against the town. He is optimistic it won't come to that.
Jack Schreppler is not going down without a fight.
Schreppler, who calls himself the Hummers Parade “grand marshal for life,” hand delivered a letter Dec. 2 to the town stating that denying his parade permit and 12 suggested parade rules threaten the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
The parade on New Year’s Day pokes fun at politicians, celebrities and news topics, spoofing Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade. As a rule, anyone can make a float and join the caravan.
A committee recommended guidelines for all future parades after the 2019 Hummers Parade’s politically-charged floats caused public outcry. Some members of the committee suggested cancelling the 2020 Hummers. Based on his knowledge as a constitutional lawyer, Schreppler is going to do what he can to make sure that doesn’t happen. That could include a trip to federal court.
The parade committee approved draft rules in November focused on banning discriminatory, offensive or unsafe floats. At the Dec. 2 town council meeting, Mayor Ken Branner said the town lawyer anticipated constitutional difficulties.
If the town denies him a permit Schreppler said he will sue the town in U.S. Courts for a civil rights violation.
“If you can’t work things out, you go see the judge,” he said.
The former Middletown resident is optimistic he won’t have to take it that far.
“I think we will get past it,” Schreppler said.
Waiting on permit
Schreppler, who lives in Wilmington, said he submitted a permit application Jan. 4, 2019 for the Jan. 1, 2020 after hearing rumors of someone else planning to obtain a parade permit for that day. He said he has not heard back from the town.
He said he supports all the other Middletown parades, but doesn’t see why they got permits and he hasn’t.
“The Mayor said that the guidelines would apply to all parades and that’s fair,” he said. “But they didn’t have to wait for the guidelines to get their permits.”
At a special public meeting Dec. 18, the council will discuss which parts are legal, which aren’t, and approve a set of guidelines. Schreppler thinks it’s likely he will find out about his permit after the meeting.
In his letter, he suggested they make the guidelines aspirational and not mandatory in order to follow the Constitution.
Schreppler emphasized he is not mad at the town. He said they and the police department have always been parade supporters.
“I am sorry it became controversial,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think I have hard feelings for this town. I love this town.”
Schreppler, who has led the parade since the second Hummers in the early 1970s, is known for wearing a suit and top hat while roller skating. His best friend’s family started the Hummers Parade to amuse a sick friend. The next year, 15-year-old Schreppler was asked to help do the parade again.
His mother gave him a coat and tails and a top hat with a plum. His best friend’s father had a sash for him that said “Grand Marshal.”
“I was 15 years old when I became the grand marshal for life,” Schreppler said. “He saw my suit and said, ‘You look like a parade marshal yourself … Get up front and lead us.’”
As for New Year’s Day 2020, he said he won’t try to have the parade somewhere else if a permit is not issued. At the same time, the town can’t stop him from roller skating down the sidewalk, he said laughing.
When contacted, the mayor declined to comment.
Problem with committee rule
Schreppler said there is one proposed rule that could ruin the Hummers Parade.
“A list of participants and descriptions of each float’s theme/display shall be submitted with the Parade Permit Application for review by Town of Middletown officials,” is the 11th draft rule.
In his letter, he said it would be difficult and nearly impossible to get a list of names and themes for floats given the spontaneous nature of the parade.
“In the 48 years I have been Grand Marshal, we have never had a meeting or a membership list,” Schreppler wrote. “Guideline No. 11 may not have been intended to kill the Hummers Parade, but it could not be more lethal.”
He is unsure if the rule is constitutional.
“If they don’t have the right to regulate the content, do they have to right to have a list of what the content is going to be? I don’t know,” Schreppler said.
Fighting for Hummers
After the 2019 parade, a January council meeting was flooded with angry residents about the controversial floats, particularly one portraying children in border detention. Schreppler considered hanging up his skates because of it.
As time went on, he decided he wanted to fight. His parents loved it, his kids are involved in it, and it all started from his best friend’s family.
“I used to skate up onto the sidewalk to get hugs and kisses from my family,” Schreppler said. “My dad and mother would not want me to let this parade die. I feel an obligation to my parent’s family and all the people who love the parade and love being in it.”
He said he understands why people were offended, but he compares the Hummers Parade to a potluck dinner.
“Based on experience, you know there is going to be something good, and there are going to be some Brussel sprouts. I don’t like Brussel sprouts” he said. “If there is something I don’t like, I look the other way.”
Schreppler is making plans.
“If this parade does survive, my plan is to come down to Middletown, party at Sully’s on New Year’s Eve, go get a room at the Family Homestead [bed and breakfast], and then get up and put on the skates.”