For nearly 25 years, it was Mike Shaughnessy’s job to find the right person to lead off the annual Nevada Day Parade, according to the theme chosen for that particular year.
This year — with the theme Celebrating 75 Years of the Nevada Day Parade — that person is him.
“So many years I would go out finding grand marshals to put in the parade,” he said. “In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have thought of something like this. But when I thought about it, oh my, heck yes.”
A native Nevadan, Shaughnessy moved to Carson City from Gardnerville in 1937.
Dressed as Little Daniel Boone, alongside his father dressed in the same costume, Shaughnessy marched in the first Nevada Day Parade — then called Admission Day — in 1938.
Although he was 3 at the time, he has bits of memory from that first parade. But the memories fill in as, over the years, he marched in parade after parade, dressed as Mark Twain, Robert E. Lee, a prospector with a burro and a miner with an ore car, among others.
“I loved it,” he said. “I got a little notoriety out of it.”
His parents, Jack and Stella, were involved with the Nevada Day celebration since early in the event’s history.
“My dad loved it,” he recalled. “He just thought it was awesome, an exciting thing to do. The whole family participated in something.”
As he grew, Shaughnessy marched with the Carson High School Band, the Active 20-30 Club and the Carson City Host Lions Club. He joined the Nevada Day Committee in the late 1960s, and became parade chairman for about four years. He then was selected to be the general chairman, a position he held for 16 years.
His wife, Dawna, daughters Kim, Marion and Shannon, and sons David and Patrick all participated to support the committee and event.
In 1970, Shaughnessy and his son Patrick, then 4, reprised the role of Daniel Boone and his child counterpart. In 2004, three generations marched together as the famous American frontiersman: Mike, Patrick and his grandson, Lain.
Shaughnessy said that in his days as chairman, he tried out a lot of ideas.
His Wild West show only drew about 30 spectators and was scrapped after the first year. An Old West fashion show was more popular, and endured for several years.
In 1975, he moved the World Championship Single-Jack Drilling Contest to the lineup of Nevada Day festivities, where it has remained a popular annual tradition.
There were times he was a little nervous, such as when a dozen longhorn cattle were driven along the parade route and were briefly spooked by elephants Bertha and Tina.
And there were some near-misses.
“One of my criteria was starting exactly at 10 a.m.,” he said. “One time, the mayor was out politicking and he missed his car. He was running down the street trying to catch it. But if we said 10 o’clock, we meant 10 o’clock.”
Upon his retirement from the Nevada Day Committee, he was named chairman emeritus and became a member for life of the committee.
When it comes to Nevada Day, Shaughnessy, 78, could go on talking for days.
“There’s a million stories,” he said, “you can’t even remember them all.”