Milwaukee Dancing Grannies Joins First Parade Since Waukesha Attack


The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies want people to know they’re not backing out.

Nearly two weeks after an SUV smashed the Waukesha Christmas Parade, killing three of their members and the husband of a fourth, the Dancing Grannies paraded in the Franklin Christmas Parade on Saturday.

The grandmothers didn’t perform, but they walked arm in arm, waving to the cheering crowds along the parade route and wishing them a Merry Christmas, flowers pinned to the front of their matching blue sweatshirts , the names of the deceased members with the coat of arms on the back.

“I don’t want people to think we’re done,” said Sharon Millard, who has been with the Dancing Grannies for almost seven years. “We are not finished. We will continue.”

The beloved group has been a part of the Wisconsin parades for almost 40 years.

Following:What we know so far about the victims of the tragic Waukesha Christmas parade

On Saturday, the women marched to show that they were carrying on. They walked to be together. Mostly, they marched to remember those they had lost: Tamara “Tammy” Carlson Durand, Leanna “Lee” Owen, Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson and Wilhelm “Bill” Hospel, husband of surviving dancer Lola Hospel.

People along the parade route hoisted signs reading “Granny Strong” and “We Love You Grannies”. They clapped, greeted and cheered the grannies as they walked past. At the end of the parade route, the grannies walked west, the sky streaked with pink and purple in the fading daylight.

“I know they look down on us, smile and dance with us,” Millard said.

Following:“The Angels Watch Over You”: Virginia “Ginny” E. Sorenson Lived a Life of Service, Spent 19 Years with Dancing Grannies

Following:Lee Owen loved his grandchildren, saved the Bulldogs and the Dancing Grannies. She was killed during the Waukesha Christmas Parade.

Some of the Franklin Parade grandmothers, including Millard and Laura Thein, were performing in the Waukesha Parade when the SUV hit.

Thein, who has been with the Grannies for seven and a half years, was in the back of the group on November 21 and saw the SUV “jump” in front of her and enter several of the dancers.

“At first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I felt like I was at war,” she said. “We just hugged and hugged and cried. And that’s what we’re doing now.”

It was the generosity and kindness of the community that helped the grandmothers overcome their grief, said Jan Kwiatkowski, who joined about three years ago.

As he made his way to the assembly area before the start of the parade on Saturday, Kwiatkowski was stopped by a woman and three little girls. The woman told Kwiatkowski that they had prayed for her and the other grannies. One of the little girls said she wanted to be a dancing grandma when she was older.

“That’s why I’m here,” Kwiatkowski said.

Following:Tamara L. Carlson Durand energetically embraced faith, family, education, Ukrainian roots and dance

Following:Wilhelm Hospel has always kept moving, whether it be physical activity, household projects or family events.

Some of the dancing grannies are still recovering from physical injuries sustained during the Waukesha parade, Thein said. They are all still healing from the emotional trauma.

Still, Thein said, she believes the grannies will train and train again next year. She hopes the Grannies will only increase in number. Now they only have a dozen women, she said.

Thein described Sorenson as the “glue” that held the troop together. Sorenson was “all about the precision” in practice, Kwiatkowski said.

“The arms had to be straight. The pom poms had to be high,” she said.

Owen was frank and “said what she thought,” Kwiatkowski said. She pushed the other performers to do their best and go above and beyond.

Carlson Durand was a new member, but she was enthusiastic and brought cookies to workouts, Millard said. Hospel volunteered often and was a great help, she said.

“We are doing it for them,” Millard said on Saturday.

Sarah Volpenhein is a Report for America Corps reporter who focuses on information important to underserved communities for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]. Please consider supporting the journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible giveaway to this reporting effort at


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