Mickey Conlon Named St. Pat’s Grand Marshall
Mickey Conlon has worked tirelessly for the St. Patrick’s Association for 38 years. This year he is being honored as Grand Marshall of the 2009 St. Patrick’s Celebration.
For some reason, Mickey has always been a favorite of the queens. In fact, that’s how he got his start with the St. Pat’s organization.
“Don Culligan asked me to be a courtesy car driver in 1972,” says Mickey. He has been chairman of the organization since the mid 1980s and assumed the duty of driving the queens to area parades.
In the photos above, Mickey and the St. Pat’s queens are pictured on the float (top); Mickey and Little Miss Shamrock Annie Brennan (center); and Mickey riding in the red convertible (bottom).
The Conlon family has Irish roots from County Meade in Ireland. The Conlons, Downs, O’Reilly and Fandels are family names. A trip to Ireland in 2005 was a highlight of Mickey’s life.
Mickey Conlon is a lifelong resident of Palo Alto County. He graduated from high school, then headed off to St. John’s in Collegeville, MN. After college, he spent two years as an employment counselor in the Twin Cities and then returned to Emmetsburg.
He worked at Boggess Construction, then took a position at the Palo Alto County Communication Center. He retired from that position March 31, 2008. His vacations from work centered around St. Pat’s. Vacation week was always the week of the celebration in March.
In his 38 years with St. Pat’s, Mickey has held just about every position in the organization. He helped with retail, selling raffle tickets, he served as St. Pat’s secretary, parade chairman and he served two different terms as chairman.
“I’ve held about every job there is,” Mickey said with a smile. “I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve gone a lot of places, all the while representing the St. Patrick’s Association.”
But he has always had a soft spot for the queens. “That was always a lot of fun and they were always good girls,” Conlon said. “When we went to Sioux City I would always take them out to dinner. When the queens were with me they never bought a thing. It all came out of my pocket.”
The stories Mickey Conlon can tell are many and varied, told with just a bit of Irish blarney.
Back in the 1970s, Conlon was part of the group who made annual sales trips to neighboring communities. They sold raffle tickets and green garters all over Northwest Iowa and into Minnesota.
“The group who went all depended on whose wife wasn’t sitting out front in a car,” Conlon admitted.
St. Pat’s would advertise they would be in towns like Fort Dodge on a specific date, then everyone would show up to buy dollar tickets for cash giveaways. When they sold garters, the St. Pat’s gang would have to put them on the purchasers, especially the women.
“There have been a lot of changes in the retail end,” said Mickey. “Before, we relied on the professional people to help support St. Pat’s. Now, retail carries the celebration.”
Like a true Irish Leprechaun, Mickey Conlon has been involved in a few “pranks” – some of which he still won’t reveal the details.
But the biggest prank was the year the St.Pat’s float came up missing.
“That even made the L.A. Times,” he recalls. “We kept sending ransom notes to the radio station about the missing float. And I’m still not going to tell where it was.”
Conlon says when the float did make it back into town, they were met by the law. “The officer said ‘I didn’t see anything’ and drove away,” he said.
Then there was the year of the strike at the Blarney Factory next door. And the “strike breaker” was dressed in a gorilla suit.
Mickey was a senior in high school the year of the first parade in the early 1960s. “A few of us decided do dye our hair green, but we forgot to use water-based coloring,” said Mickey. “I still had green in my hair that summer.”
There have been many trips to Des Moines where the visiting Irish dignitaries were honored at the state legislature.
“We would pick up the dignitary at the airport and take him to address the legislature. Miss Shamrock and a friend would go to Des Moines, too,” said Mickey. “We would always get to Emmetsburg in time for the open house on Friday afternoon. Taking them back to the airport was always tearful. They know you and you know them and their families. It was the same when I was over there (in Ireland), just leaving their houses.”
When Mickey Conlon traveled to Ireland in 2005, he met many of the dignitaries that have come to Emmetsburg. Mickey and his sister, Patty, were honored at a banquet in the Dail dining hall.
“When I got there just about all the guys that had been here were at the banquet that night,” he said.
Conlon spent “two glorious weeks over there”?(in Ireland). They met all of the dignitaries and their families and they stayed in the homes of seven different families. All served as hosts, showing Mickey the country or Ireland.
“I still keep in touch with all of them at Christmas,” he says.
There have been many honors bestowed on Mickey Conlon. He was named Citizen of the Year in 1999 and Rotary honored him in 2008.
“It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been involved with St. Pat’s,” said Mickey. “I accepted those awards, and more, on behalf of St. Pat’s.”
As one friend put it, through the years, Mickey Conlon has touched a lot of lives on two different continents.
For years, Mickey has organized the activities of the Grand Marshall. This year the organization will put him in the spotlight. Mickey will be wearing his white jacket and green pants, but he won’t be marching at the head of the parade. He will be riding in the seat of honor.
Mickey Conlon will retire as St. Pat’s Chairman after this year. “It’s been a wonderful ride. I’ll miss it.”