Every year, the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade honors a different “local hero” as its honorary grand marshal. And this year’s hero has become a familiar name during the pandemic.
Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO of Lee Health, will wave from a fire truck at the Saturday, Feb. 19 parade, organizers say. He’ll be joined by members of his medical staff as the parade travels along Cleveland Avenue and makes its way through downtown Fort Myers.
“I think it’s only appropriate,” says grand parade chairman Mike Gill. “He’s the guy who’s kept Lee County and Southwest Florida somewhat healthy and vibrant and still beating.
“I’m hoping that everybody will stand up and applaud him as he goes by.”
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Organizers will likely announce the parade’s main grand marshal later this week, says Greg Edsell, board president for the nonprofit Edison Festival of Light.
Antonucci is also expected to appear in the Edison Fest Junior Parade this Sunday, Edsell says.
Both parades return this month after getting canceled last year because of COVID concerns. They attract thousands of people every year to downtown Fort Myers and Cleveland Avenue.
Organizers discussed many names for the title of honorary grand marshal, also known as the People’s Choice Honorary Grand Marshal. And Antonucci was an early frontrunner.
“Of course, his name came up pretty early on in the process,” Edsell says. “And, of course, it’s kind of in the forefront of everybody’s thoughts over the past two years — the sort of things that they’ve had to do and deal with.”
It made sense to honor Antonucci, the public face of Lee Health, and the rest of the “Lee Health Heroes,” Edsell says. Organizers did something similar in 2018 after Hurricane Irma, when the parade’s grand marshals were line workers from LCEC and FPL.
“It’s sort of honoring local heroes,” Edsell says. “That’s how we’ve approached it.”
Antonucci wasn’t available for immediate comment Tuesday.
Here’s more information about the junior parade and the grand parade:
Edison Festival of Light Junior Parade
This smaller version of the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade features kids and their families smiling and waving from floats, wagons, marching bands and more. 2:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13. Free. The parade starts at First and Heitman streets in downtown Fort Myers.
Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade
The gigantic, two-hour parade returns after skipping 2021 because of the pandemic. It celebrates former Fort Myers resident Thomas Edison and is considered the biggest night parade in the Southeastern United States. 7-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19. Free (although various local nonprofits also sell reserved “street seats”). The parade travels from Fort Myers High School to Cleveland Avenue and then north to downtown Fort Myers.
— For more information on both events, call 334-2999 or visit edisonfestival.org.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at email@example.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).