ELMHURST – Colleen Sutherland loved being the Elmhurst Armpit Orchestra’s queen in 2014.
Whereas many of the group’s queens often get embarrassed by the famed group’s annual honor, Sutherland wore her crown and sash proudly at the orchestra’s events.
Sutherland, 52, passed away from breast cancer in October, so at this year’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, the EAO is raising money for Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in her honor.
The EAO is a group of about 65 Elmhurst men who play “unconventional” instruments, such as kazoos, washboards, bucket drums and stump fiddles. The group raises funds for a different organization each year.
The orchestra, which knows only a handful of songs, marches in the St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, wearing shorts, tank tops, fake beards and other silly attire.
Sutherland and her husband Scott, who is a co-founder of the EAO, always hosted the pre-parade party for the EAO members and their families.
Rich Reichert, co-founder of the EAO, said the Sutherlands are close friends, so he wanted to do something to support the family while helping cancer patients. The EAO is selling pink shamrocks that will adorn the group’s 9-foot. drum during the parade. Small shamrocks are $5, while larger ones are $20.
“We wanted to recognize Elmhurst Memorial Hospital’s infusion center because Colleen received a lot of treatment there, and they give such good care," he said. "They include the family as a part of the treatment, and her family members would sit with her while she received chemo."
All the money raised will go to the hospital infusion center’s transportation program, which provides rides to patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Reichert said the group’s goal is to completely cover the drum with the shamrocks in remembrance of Sutherland.
Sutherland, who was a teacher, and her husband have three children, ages 25, 22 and 18. Reichert said the family is once again hosting this weekend’s pre-parade party to keep her spirit alive.
"It’s been tough for her family, but they want to host the party because she would’ve wanted them to," he said. "She was such a fun-loving person and she loved that her husband is involved in the orchestra. She was so outgoing, loved to entertain us and our families. Every year we crown a queen, and she loved being queen that year. She was just very involved and loved hosting the party every year."
Jim O’Connor, parade organizer, said raising money in Colleen’s honor is a “wonderful” thing for the EAO to do this year.
"She was so full of life, and the party was a big part of their lives and it won’t stop. There will be a few tears shed this year. She was important to this community,” he said.
Around 20,000 people are expected to line the streets of Elmhurst on March 4 to watch 130 community groups and organizations, including the EAO and Gov. Bruce Rauner, march in the parade. O’Connor said the parade is a tradition in Elmhurst that brings the community together to mark the beginning of spring.
"This is the end of winter and it’s a big party," he said. "The EAO is very important to the parade, they’re a unique attraction and they built the world’s largest drum, which is a sight to see. It’s just local guys, bankers, doctors, pastors, lawyers, garbage men, out there having fun. They have open hearts and just want to do things for the community."
To buy a pink shamrock, visit the parade’s website at www.elmhurststpatsparade.com and click on the “EAO Honor Colleen Donation” link. Shamrocks also may also be bought the day of the parade from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. in front of Ahlgrim Funeral Home, 567 Spring Road.
The 21st annual St. Patrick’s Day parade kicks off at noon March 4 at Spring Road and Wilson Avenue. The parade goes for one mile before ending at Silverado Grill.