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Man proposes during parade

Bemidji Firefighter Chad Hokuf asks Tara Drangruth to marry him during the Night We Light Parade Friday. (Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron)

Music, horses, dogs, elves, Grinches, snowmen, and of course, Santa Claus on the TeleSquirt fire truck - the Night We Light Parade means Bemidji is ready for the run up to Christmas.

But Tara Drangruth's Christmas surprise came early during Friday's parade. Bemidji Firefighter Chad Hokuf stopped his fire truck at the corner of Sixth Street and Beltrami Avenue, hopped out and opened the door of the fire truck Tara was riding in. He took her by the hand into the headlights of his truck, kneeled on the pavement and proposed marriage. Tara accepted as Chris slipped an engagement ring on her finger.

Tara and Chad will always remember the Night We Light Parade 2008, but the parade and First City of Lights setting the Bemidji Waterfront aglow are traditions cherished by many families.

"Do you like his decorations?" asked Ada Lee, 6, who was watching the parade with her mother, Tonya, brother, Eli, almost 2, and baby brother, Zek, 2 months, whose stroller was decked out with tinsel roping.

Ada said her favorite part of the parade is music. Floats featured broadcast Christmas carols, as well as singers and a bell choir.

Another family who wore festive decorations included Ellie Hughes, 6, and her sister, Jayda, 4, dressed as snowgirls, and their brother, Jack, 1, as a sparkling Santa. They were watching the parade with their grandparents, Kevin and Connie Dunlap and Tom and Deeanne Moen. Their cousins, Lily Krona, 5, and her brother, Bjorn, 2, were wrapped in blinking Christmas lights. Also in the party were their mother, Amy Krona, and a mysterious Grinch.

Ellie and Jayda said seeing Santa is their favorite part of the parade and Bjorn said he planned to wave to Santa.

Another three-generation family, newcomers to the Bemidji area, was taking in the parade for the first time.

Jay and Diane Walter, their daughter-in-law, Kathy Ottum, and grandchildren Aeryn, 4, and Zoe, 3, craned to see Santa on his high perch.

"It's going to be a tradition," said Jay.

And Aeryn said next year their baby brother, Jesse, will be born, and he can watch the parade with them.

As Mayor Richard Lehmann flicked the switch for the Lighting of the Pines at the waterfront, the audience cheered the start of the holiday