"They really caught me off guard," said Rich Higgins, newly named St. Pat's Grand Marshal. "I thought my sisters were coming out and there they were with Andy and the group. It was quite a surprise."
Rich Higgins was nominated for the honor by his sisters, Rosemary Jones, Cinda Joynt and Cheryl Rouse, along with other family and friends. Rich is a local third-generation farmer with a strong sense of Irish heritage, whose career spans over 35 years in the telephone business.
St. Pat's is always a time for the Higgins family to gather together and celebrate. This year will be no exception. Rich and JoAnn Higgins' children will be here:?Shaun and Brenda Higgins, and little Jameson, from Minneapolis; Heather and Courtney Williams from New York; and Patrick and Emilie Higgins, and little Harper, from Emmetsburg. Add cousins and their families and the Higgins clan will take over the town.
2014 GRAND MARSHAL -- Rich Higgins has been named 2014 Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Parade in Emmetsburg. He will be the special guest at festivities throughout the celebration. St. Pat’s co-chair Andy Joyce is pictured (left) presenting Rich his official sash. The St. Pat’s Parade is March 15. --Jane Whitmore photo
Rich is the fifth in a line of Grand Marshals that started in 2001 when his father, Dick Higgins, received the honor. Since then, cousin Johnny Higgins was Grand Marshal in 2010, his aunt Dorothy Gilman was Grand Marshal in 2011 and cousin Ned Munn was Grand Marshal in 2013.
Through the years, Rich has been active with the St. Patrick's Association. With the Knights of Columbus, he helped set up for the Miss Shamrock Pageant at Corrigan Hall. And, he sold tickets with his cousin, Johnny Higgins.
"I guess I got started when we would go out and get money for advertising from businesses," said Rich. "I worked with a lot of different guys. Mickey Conlon was great to work with. And I used to help John O'Leary paint the green stripe down the street. Then I set up the Ceili for a few years - quite a few years, actually." The Ceili was a local talent show held at the VFW Hall.
"What would you be if you weren't
Irish and live in Great Oak?"
"Ashamed of ourselves!"
--Dick Higgins, with a slap on his knee and a good laugh
"We had a lot of fun meeting the visiting Irish dignitaries over the years,"?Higgins added. "In fact, one year there was a Higgins that came here." That was James Higgins, T.D. who came to Emmetsburg in 1994.
Rich and JoAnn, both with Irish heritage, have never been to Ireland but they hope to make the trip some day. "We would like to go as a family. We still have relatives in Ireland on my mom's side," said Rich.
Patricia Donahue Higgins corresponded with her Irish family. Dick Higgins' family came from County Slingo.
Rich and JoAnn's son, Patrick, was born on St. Patrick's Day. And so was their son-in-law, Courtney.
Family is important to Rich Higgins. He recalls building floats for the St. Pat's Parade.
"We built floats at my grandpa's garage in the south part of town and all of our cousins would ride on the float," remembered Rich. The family continued to build floats at Dick Higgins' home and brothers and sisters and cousins would all ride in the parade.
"We've always had a lot of fun with St. Pat's," said Rich. "It's kind of been our family gathering."
Rich grew up on the family farm in Great Oak Township, along with a lot of cousins. He still farms the family farm.
"I took over from my dad 20 years ago when he retired," Rich said. "The first ten years I farmed with my cousin Tommy. Then he retired from it and I stayed there."
In addition to farming, Rich works for Windstream in Outside Plant Engineering for Northwest Iowa.
He started with GTE in 1977, then worked for Iowa Telecom and now with Windstream.
"I will have 37 years in the telephone business in June," he said.
Aside from work and farming, Rich is an active member of the Knights of Columbus.
"Mickey Conlon recruited me when I was a senior in High School," he recalls. "I earned 4th Degree a few years ago."
Rich and JoAnn were married 37 years ago. It was a marriage of Irish families. JoAnn is a Noonan and her mother was a Mehan, true Irish.
"We've got a lot of relatives around," they say.
Letters of Nomination
Rich's sister, Cinda, wrote: "His time and contributions have made Emmetsburg a better place to live and raise our children and now our grandchildren. Rich will show all who attend our weekend festivities the friendly fun-filled atmosphere that surrounds our community during the St. Patrick's Day celebration."
The Noonan family wrote, "When you think of an Irishman, the following words come to mind:?Happy, congenial, genuine, concerned, likeable, and a storyteller with 'the gift of gab'. These words also describe Rich Higgins."
Daughter Heather added her nomination, which stated: "The times that stand out in my mind include his setting up chairs at the annual pageant, being a member of the St. Patrick's Association, and most recently joining other family members in the great tradition of 'Christmas Leprechauns' which brings hope and smiles to so many community members."