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John O’Leary Named Grand Marshal

By Staff | Feb 26, 2008

GRAND MARSHALL -- John O’Leary (center) is getting all decked out to be Grand Marshal of the 2008 St. Patrick’s Parade in Emmetsburg. Nominated by Rick and Diane Brennan, Rick gets ready to put the green hat on the Grand Marshall while Diane attaches his official sash. O’Leary will make appearances at St. Pat’s Headquarters Open House, the Junior Miss and Miss Shamrock Pageants and he will ride in the St.Patrick’s Parade on Saturday, March 15. --Jane Whitmore photo

Everyone always thought the leprechauns painted the green stripe down Broadway, indicating the parade route for the Emmetsburg St. Patrick’s Parade. That ‘leprechaun’ has a name and it’s John O’Leary.

“Some years we would be up as early as 5 a.m. to paint the green stripe down Broadway,” said O’Leary. “Other years, in case of bad weather, we didn’t get the green stripe painted until just before the parade.”

O’Leary uses tempera paint and sprays the line down the street. He also paints shamrocks on the sidewalks and sometimes in the snow on the Courthouse Square.

That is just one of the tasks John O’Leary completed to help make the annual St. Patrick’s Celebration something special.

This year, John is being honored as Grand Marshal of the 2008 St. Patrick’s Parade. He was nominated by Rick and Diane Brennan.

“I was really surprised when I got the call,” said O’Leary. “It’s quite an honor to represent the town for a weekend. The kids were all thrilled and will be home for Dad.”


Rick and Diane Brennan wrote in their nomination: “John epitomizes the ‘Irish’ of this community.” They went on to tell how he has volunteered for many groups, without fanfare and avoiding the spotlight.

One of the highlights the Brennans mentioned was painting the green stripe down Broadway. O’Leary “retired” from the task last year, turning the job over to Rick Brennan. But he will help Rick again this year.

“It’s been kind of a family thing,” said O’Leary. His children helped him with the paint job over the years. Now he will be turning the job over to Brennan and his sons.

John talks about the stories the old timers tell when it comes to the St. Patrick’s Celebration. His uncles, Bill and Bob O’Leary, were involved in those stories. Now John will be part of the stories, too.

But it wasn’t just the green stripe that John O’Leary worked on. He also helped build the Miss Shamrock Pageant runway.

“It’s still a trial to install and get it right the first time,” he says.

John has also helped organize the reviewing stand for the parade.


John and his wife, Danita, are lifelong residents of Emmetsburg. John is the son of Tim and Virginia O’Leary. He graduated from Emmetsburg High School in 1973 and studied for two years at Northwest Iowa Technical College. John worked with O’Leary Construction, doing all of their heating and cooling.

In 1980 John started his own business, O’Leary Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning. He located at 2106 12th Street in 1983.

The O’Learys are involved in the community and their church. John has served on the Emmetsburg Catholic School Board for many years, along with Holy Family Parish Finance Council and Parish Director. He has been a leader in the Knights of Columbus, and the KC-sponsored Punt, Pass and Kick events. John has also served on the Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities Board of Trustees.

As a get-away, John has gone fishing in Canada “forever.” Last year was the first time Danita went along and “she loved it.”

The O’Learys followed their children’s activities through school. They have three daughters and a son. Kelly is a district representative for Quest Communications near Iowa City. Nathan works for Delta Environmental Consulting Services in Davenport. Erin is a fifth year pharmacy student at SDSU, Brookings. And Caley has just moved back to Emmetsburg after earning a medical assistant degree from Kirkwood.

John and Danita were thrilled to welcome their first grandchild, Griffin John, born Feb. 5. John has a “Grandpa’s Brag Book” at his office and is proud to show off his grandson.

The O’Learys host a large gathering of family and friends to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This year will be an even bigger celebration with the Grand Marshal being the host.