Since 2009, Hays resident Dixie Odum has pretty much been a regular at the Rush Center St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration. Saturday was no exception.

“This for me has always been the official start of spring,” said Odum, sitting amongst the crowd lining the parade route, awaiting its start.

With no wind, and 60-degree temperatures, the day was a big switch from the frigid cold and 50 mile-an-hour winds of days prior.

“I was so excited when I looked it up and it was today, and then I saw that the weather was going to be nice too,” Odum said.

Judging by the sea of green in the crowd, everyone was Irish in Rush Center on Saturday.

“I really like the parade, and the Irish stew meal, and seeing people

I know from working in La Crosse for eight years,” said Odum, who at one time was a certified physical therapist assistant.

As happens every year, the busy intersection of U.S. Highway 183 and Kansas Highway 196 was temporarily closed for Saturday’s parade. While Rush Center has a population of only about 175, the number swells to hundreds more for the St. Patrick’s parade and celebration.

Like everyone else on the route, Odum stood and placed her hand on her heart as The Star-Spangled Banner played over the loudspeaker at the start.

Watching the parade, high-schoolers McKylie Lari, Rush Center, and Kassie Pechanec, Nekoma, were wearing strands of green beaded necklaces.

“We just have a drawer in our house full of St. Patrick’s day stuff,” Pechanec said.

It’s a treat to watch the parade, said Pechanec, who along with Lari is a junior at La Crosse High School.

“This is the first year I’m not in the parade,” she said. “I’m usually doing rodeo queen stuff. Last year I rode on a Gator and threw out T-shirts for the McCracken Rodeo. Last year I was the McCracken rodeo queen. This year I’m the ElKan queen out of Ellsworth.”

Since she was very young, Lari has been coming to the parade, which has ballooned to include food vendors, a car and tractor show, games, a cake walk, scavenger hunt, toilet races and a beer garden with bands playing live music.

“My great grandmother used to live here and we’d come to visit her,” Lari said. “My most vivid memory was when they threw the candy out, her favorite candy was Tootsie Rolls, so we’d give them all to her.”

Ron Surface, Ness City, was one of those directing traffic on Saturday.

The parade started 30 years ago, kind of by accident, when resident Ronnie Renz bought a new car, and told Surface he’d sure like to show it off, recalls county resident Virginia Schneider.

With the St. Patrick’s Day holiday coming up, the two asked everyone to bring their cars, their pick ups and their tractors for a 10 a.m. parade, remembers Schneider, who was there for the first one.

“It was probably illegal as all get out,” she says, remembering that well-known cafe owner Effie Crowell was one of many who pitched in. “Effie provided green beer and cookies at the township hall. It just snowballed from there.”

On Saturday, Jim Lutters drove 40 miles from Ransom for the parade, bringing his 9-year-old grandson, Chris Farley, La Crosse. Lutters sat in a lawn chair while Farley made quick dashes into the street as drivers in the parade threw out candy.

“We always come every year,” said Lutters, who speculates he’s probably been coming since it started. “It’s something to do.”

Alissa Richardson, Great Bend, was eating a big cup of colorful shaved ice, as her grandfather, Scott Mandler, also of Great Bend, took photos of the vehicles in the parade.

“We just wanted to do something for St. Patrick’s,” Mandler said, “and we heard Rush Center is the place to go.”

Nancy Meitl, Rush Center, helped with the Irish stew meal. This year the doors opened at noon and the line went until 1 p.m. It was all gone shortly after parade’s end, although there were slices of pie still available.

Customers should come before the parade to be sure they get a bowl, Meitl said. While she’s volunteered for years to help make the stew, she’s not sure where the recipe came from.

“We have community members come the night before and chop the potatoes, carrots, cabbage and celery,” Meitl said. “And the community brings in the homemade pie.”

With bad weather all week, Meilt was worried about attendance.

“It’s awesome we had the good weather,” she said. “I started praying two weeks ago because I didn’t want six roasters left of stew.”

While the crowd was a big one, bad weather for weeks leading up to the celebration did put a damper on the car show, speculated Schneider.

Usually there are as many as 90 entries, and this year there were only about 55. Parade participation was down also.

“A lot of people didn’t make floats, they weren’t as enthused,” Schneider said. “When it’s 85-mile-an-hour winds two days before, that discourages people.”

Rather than making money this year, she anticipates the community will probably lose about $1,000. She has no doubt the celebration will continue though.

“Oh yes, yes, I’m sure,” Schneider said. “It’s one of those things you don’t get out of it until you die. That’s what we tell everyone.”

The live music, parade and most of the events are free. There is a $20 registration fee for the car show, and there’s a charge for the Irish stew and other food and drinks.

But Schneider says the community has tried to keep prices at a minimum through the years.

“We just wanted people to come together and have fun and not cost a fortune,” she said of the founding philosophy. “We wanted it to be affordable for a family.”

Family, friends, food, good weather and the parade seemed to be the draw Saturday.

“This is what brought us back here — the parade,” said Jenifer Leapheart, Blue Springs, Mo., decked out in green, including green fingernails.

A native of La Crosse, Leapheart’s heritage is German, with relatives named Schuckman in Hays. She was at the parade with her grandaughter, Winter Leapheart, Dallas, who was eating a hot dog and chips.

“We are on an adventure to see our family,” Leapheart said.

Greg’s Pub & Grub was serving green beer, as well as ribs and brats.

Passing through in a green T-shirt, Jay Schroter, La Crosse, was stopped by a friend telling him happy birthday. He laughed, “Rush Center has a parade for me every year for my birthday.”