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Sunday's Penngrove parade felt like a big piece of apple pie ala mode with an American flag toothpicked on top — sweet, comforting and patriotic.

The county's "Biggest Little Parade" wrapped up a variety of community events during the extended Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Penngrove's old-fashioned ode to the Fourth of July is a small parade by Santa Rosa Rose Parade standards — just the one-third mile length of downtown Penngrove. It didn't have some standard parade scenes, no marching bands and it was short on politicians, but it was packed with what makes the small rural community of Penngrove.

There were kids on horseback, local residents in classic cars, military vehicles, tractors and schoolchildren. Kicking it off were several fire engines and Rancho Adobe firefighters who protect the Penngrove area.

"It's a piece of Americana. You just don't see anything like this," said Dave Willis, a Rohnert Park resident who works in Penngrove.

"How many times do you see people line up to watch hot rods and tractors go down Main Street?" he asked, while nursing a cup of IPA beer.

The Penngrove Social Firemen club started the parade 38 years ago. It is held on the first Sunday of July.

The nonprofit club supports Penngrove Park and gives money to the neighborhood school and fire department.

Penngrove, a southern Sonoma County hamlet with rural roots, drew a healthy crowd Sunday of a few thousand people who lined the main drag to watch.

The crowd offered lots of good-natured cheering and clapping and many called out to friends, neighbors or family in the parade.

"It's the best parade," said Jennifer Knef, a Penngrove area resident who sat with her husband, Sam, in shade along the Redwood Montessori School porch. "It's really a sense of community."

"It renews my faith in America," Sam Knef said. "This is what it's all about."

Longtime Penngrove residents Bob and Sharon Clarke said they've missed only one parade in all of its 38 years. He's most often in the parade but this year decided to watch.

"I'd rather be set and watch it. You don't see it when you're in it," Bob Clarke said.

Many watching were seniors who said the event was an annual homecoming, a chance to see longtime friends and neighbors and celebrate their community.

One of those was Rita Brians McMillan, who grew up on a Petaluma Hill Road ranch. Her grandfather was once Penngrove fire chief and her father a firefighter volunteer.

"It's original," McMillan said, summarizing what she enjoys about the event.

After the parade, the crowd headed for the annual festival at the park — a club fundraiser.

Joe Reiter, a veteran Penngrove resident and six-year past president of the Penngrove Social Firemen, was working the festival.

He stopped a moment after delivering a keg of IPA to a beer booth to talk about the day's events.

"As you can see, it's open to everybody. It's a community effort. From kids pulled in a wagon to 1919 tractors," Reiter said. "It's just a good time."

You can reach Staff Writer

Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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