One year ago, a man drove through a Christmas parade in the Wisconsin community of Waukesha, killing six people, injuring dozens more and turning a beloved tradition into a scene of horror.
Four of the six victims were from the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a tight-knit band of women who march in parades throughout the state. The loss of longtime leaders nearly threatened an end to the group, according to a Facebook post marking the tragedy’s first anniversary on Monday.
A year later, the city and grannies have pulled together, with neighbors supporting neighbors, families drawing closer and wounds beginning to heal.
“Everyone suffered emotionally. Everyone wondered what would become of the (Milwaukee Dancing Grannies),” the post said.
The grannies are back, and they’re planning to march in the same Waukesha Christmas parade that ended in tragedy a year ago.
Dancing Grannies Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, Leanna Owen and Tamara Durand, and one group member’s husband, Wilhelm “Bill” Hospel, were killed at the Christmas parade on Nov. 21, 2021. Three other members were injured.
“Ginny and Lee were the glue that held this group together. Their passion, dedication, commitment, gentleness, caring friendship, and groups history was gone,” the post said.
Durand, who was participating in her first Dancing Grannies parade, had a “bubbly personality, love of God, family, and friends.” Hospel was the group’s loving “helper,” especially to his wife Lola when she performed.
Grannies will dance again in parade
In January, the Dancing Grannies began to move forward with “the blessing of our fallen” families and are now in full swing of holiday parades, although 2022 “means so much more than ever before” to the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.
“Ginny, Lee, Tamara, and Bill are watching down on us, guiding, pushing, and moving us forward … We are granny strong!” the post stated in all capitalized letters.
In a few weeks, the group will perform at the same parade, with some returning members and several newcomers who have become part of the granny family to dance and help the group “navigate a whole new world.”
“It wasn’t easy at times. Some days were challenging dealing with different personalities, thoughts, opinions, why this or that, on top of grief and trauma. It became a fun-filled adventure, at times long and emotional. We stuck together and came out stronger than ever,” the post said.
“Performing, hearing the cheers and applause, seeing smiles, and interacting with the crowds all warm our hearts. Communities near and far wanted us to perform, knowing our fallen four would not want us to give up and disband the group.”
Victims’ loved ones addressed driver in court
Darrell Brooks Jr., the SUV driver who plowed through the Christmas parade last year, was convicted of all 76 counts against him and sentenced to life in prison this fall.
At a recent sentencing hearing, victims and their loved ones had the opportunity to address Brooks and share their experiences. More than 40 people spoke, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of USA TODAY Network, reported.
Chris Owen, son of Leanna “Lee” Owen, spoke about his mother wanting to visit him and his wife in Turkey.
“It was her dream trip. Out of all the places in the world, that was the one place she had to visit before she died,” Owen said. “She was the one that made sure everyone got their Christmas list out on time. She made the best eggnog I ever had, and she made my grandma’s mac and cheese whenever we were together.”
David Sorenson, husband of over 56 years to Virginia Sorenson, said he prays that “she is watching over us.”
“The life I was once able to share with Ginny is gone. But it has strengthened my family’s closeness and in a way, made us stronger for the great challenges we have ahead of us.”
Contributing: Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel