Each parade has an action that attracts the eye, which brings a quick smile and a happy laugh.
An act like the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies who, with their pom-poms, sense of humor and moxie, have entertained crowds across the area for decades.
Founded in 1984, they usually performed 25 times a year, though they had to take a break during the earlier months of the pandemic.
“The Grannies are a kind of really tight entity,” said Beth Krohn, a retired member of the group. “We used to call it a sisterhood.”
On Sunday, the women did what they loved best: performing, entertaining, and bringing joy to those gathered at the Waukesha Christmas Parade.
But at one point, as a red SUV roared down the parade route, several of the dancing grandmothers were tragically run down with four killed.
On Monday, police released the names of those killed, including Virginia Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, and Tamara Durand, 52, who were all part of the dancing grandmothers, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81, who helped the group.
A fifth person also died. Police identified her as Jane Kulich, 52. Kulich worked at Citizens Bank, which said in a statement that “one of our team members who was walking with the parachutist was hit and died as a result of her injuries.”
“Our condolences go out to her family and friends for this incredible loss,” the bank said in its statement. “Please lift our team and the whole community while we all mourn.”
It is hard to imagine, so close to Thanksgiving, the unsurpassed grief visited families and friends of those who died. Each used their time and talent to help others in their own way.
Virginia Sorenson: The Heart of the Group
If the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies had a beating heart, it was Sorenson. Everyone called her Ginny.
She had a bad back and a bad hip, but loved to dance and was an instructor and choreographer who helped newcomers and veterans with the group’s routines.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” said her husband of 56 years, David Sorenson. “She liked to direct. She liked the dance and the camaraderie between the women. She liked to perform.”
More coverage:What we know and do not know about the car that plowed through a crowd at the Waukesha Christmas Parade
Sorenson, a 19-year-old veteran of the Dancing Grannies, was close to the back of the group, holding a banner when she was killed.
David Sorenson was at the parade on Sunday, helping ferry the dancers from their parking lots at the finish line to the start of the route.
He said Ginny “should drive in the van behind the women and be the instructor. They were a short help, so she offered to keep the banner down the street. So she did. I was at the end (of the parade route)) in the car. I sat in the car and waited. “
She never came.
The Sorensons lived a long and fulfilling life with three children and six grandchildren. They met decades ago at a church event.
“She taught me to do Can-Can,” her husband said.
In their home in Muskego, she cared for animals, including two horses, chickens, dogs and cats.
A registered nurse, Ginny Sorenson still worked part-time in medical records. She used the extra money to pay for the horses and give treats to the grandchildren, her daughter Heather Sorenson said.
For Sorensons, the grandmothers were an activity for the whole family. Their grandchildren often marched with the group and held the banner. Sorensons also held frequent parties for the group, especially around Halloween.
Tamara Durand: Debuting
At the opposite end of the experience at Dancing Grannies was Durand, a young grandmother who was “super excited” Sunday because she was about to make her debut with the group.
“She danced her way through life,” her husband David Durand said Monday. “She danced when there was no music. She always danced. It describes her personality.”
In addition to dancing, Durand had a passion for her grandson and cared for him four days a week so her daughter could go to nursing school.
She volunteered for several years as a pastor at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, according to her LinkedIn page and a church bulletin from 2019. The bulletin from St. Jerome Parish of Oconomowoc says she turned to the work of helping the sick and dying after converting to Catholicism.
Prior to that, she worked for more than 17 years as an elementary school teacher at the Beaver Dam Unified School District.
On Sunday, she posted a picture on her Facebook page, dressed in the blue-and-white outfit that grandmothers wore, and with pom-poms. She wrote that it was her first Dancing Grannies parade.
Her death shattered her family. “Everyone is pretty shocked,” her husband said.
LeAnna Owen: Always encouraging
Owen of Cudahy led an apartment complex and was an enthusiastic member of Dancing Grandmothers.
Owen was full of kindness to his tenants, said Dave Schmidt, who owns the two 32-unit buildings Owen managed.
“She did not have a bad bone in her body. She was the cutest lady,” Schmidt said.
Owen had managed the properties on South Packard Avenue for about 10 years. Prior to that, she lived on another property owned by Schmidt’s family.
“She was the glue that kept the apartment complex running for us,” Schmidt said. “She will be greatly missed.”
Owen was focused on ensuring tenants had a positive experience, Schmidt said. She knew and had relationships with every single tenant.
The Dancing Grannies were an integral part of her identity.
“When she wanted to take it up … she just wanted that big smile on her face,” Schmidt said.
When a reporter from WDJT-TV (Channel 58) profiled the group in August, Owen’s interview was much talked about.
“Can you join the group?” reporter Winnie Dortch asked Owen, who was the smallest, shortest dancing grandmother of the crew.
“Oh, you want to bet I can,” Owen replied, laughing. “I encourage them. ‘Come now come now!’ “
Speaking in her glittering red and white parade costume, Owen recalled a treasured moment when members of the group were recognized by children on a trip to Door County.
“A whole bunch of them got up and came over and started talking to us, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re a little bit like lesser celebrities,'” Owen told the reporter.
Owen, a grandmother, leaves behind two sons.
Wilhelm Hospel: Helped the dancers
Hospel was a well-known presence among the grandmothers. His wife, Lola, was one of the dancers, and he helped by ferrying the dancers and making sure everyone had what they needed.
Jim Ray, who identified himself on Facebook as a colleague of Lola, wrote Monday that he was “absolutely crushed.” Another man, Todd Heeter, wrote that Hospel was his former landlord. Heeter said he was speechless after hearing the news that Hospel, whom he described as “81 years young”, was dead.
Jane Kulich: A strong light of service
An online fundraiser for Kulich’s family, confirmed by a GoFundMe spokesman, called Kulich “a loving, beautiful and charismatic mother, grandmother and friend to so many.”
“The world is a much darker place without a woman like this in the world,” it says on the GoFundMe page.
According to her LinkedIn page, Kulich described herself as “a very hard worker who enjoys helping others” with “amazing customer service skills.”
She had worked at Citizens Bank as treasurer since November 2020.
Prior to that, Kulich was a caretaker for Visiting Angels, working as a server at Dave’s Family restaurant for almost four years and working as a production assistant at Klinke Cleaners for two and a half years.
Kulich had studied medical billing and coding at West Allis’ now-closed Sanford Brown College, and she mentioned the following as issues she cared about: animal welfare, children and human rights.
In a Facebook post, Kulich’s daughter, Taylor Smith, wrote this tribute: “There are no words. It’s so unreal. My mother was killed last night. We’re told she did not suffer. Thank God. I am so grateful for “I got to have her for so long, but damn it. She went to the parade last night. She was so happy. I love you mom. Rest in peace my beautiful angel.”
Smiles, cheers, warmth: Dancing grandmothers reflect
On Monday, the Waukesha community was in deep mourning as people tried to come to terms with the deaths, injuries and traumas. It was the kind of event that waves out in southeast Wisconsin and across the country.
And it will never make sense.
In a post shared on Facebook, the grandmothers said: “Our group did what they loved, performed in front of the crowds in a parade that put smiles on faces of all ages and filled them with joy and happiness.
“While the grandmothers performed, they enjoyed hearing the cheers and applause of the audience, which certainly brought smiles to the lips and warmed their hearts.”
Devi Shastri of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.