Walk down the 5100 block of Izard Street and you’ll spot handsome two-story homes built in the 1920s, old-style streetlights with round globes, and similar trademarks of Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood.
What makes the block distinct are the people behind the doors of those homes, neighbors who gather every Memorial Day weekend for a celebration that marks its 50th anniversary today.
Since 1963, folks on the 5100 block have celebrated Drazi, an event including a parade and potluck that started as a takeoff of Omaha’s glitzy Ak-Sar-Ben coronation.
Drazi, of course, is Izard spelled backward. Instead crowning a king, Drazi has a “gnik.”
More than 125 people are expected for today’s milestone celebration, which is drawing former residents and their children. Some of those now grown-up kids will share their Drazi memories with the crowd.
A former neighbor has painted a tree on a sheet of plywood with 20 branches representing each house on the block, and leaves with the names of past and current families.
Drazi began as a way for neighbors to have some fun and get to know each other better, and that’s still a big part of it, said Dr. Jim Howard, this year’s gnik.
“It’s neighborhood spirit,’’ Howard said.
That spirit lives, he said, in the people in those two-story homes.
There’s the matriarch of the block who goes door-to-door collecting signatures on sympathy cards when a neighbor loses a loved one. There’s the retired Omaha police officer who has spare house keys for nearly a dozen of his neighbors. There’s the man who once sang “Rubber Ducky” while sitting in a tub during the skits that are a Drazi tradition.
The 5100 block is a street where people attend the graduations of their neighbors’ kids, where neighbors mow lawns and shovel snow for people who can’t do it themselves, where casseroles arrive at the front door of a family facing a funeral.
Over the years, neighbors have faced a mix of weather for Drazi. Some years it’s cool enough that folks are in sweatshirts and jackets, and other times all they need are shorts and T-shirts.
Some years rain has sent people running into a neighbor’s two-car garage for the potluck, which usually is served in the street after barricades are set up.
Back in the 1960s, when more than 60 kids lived on the block, the Drazi celebration ran from Friday through Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Howard said.
One neighbor used to hang a sheet in his garage and show Abbott & Costello movies. Another neighbor used to haul a jukebox into the street for dancing.
There’s still plenty of fun such as a very competitive egg toss, along with a tug of war that sometimes pits the south side of the block against the north.
For the past two decades, the celebration has been just on Sunday.
The day starts with neighbors placing full-size U.S. flags in stands at the end of their driveways.
Kids decorate their bikes, scooters and pets with red, white and blue, and march down the street in the parade, which starts at 2 p.m. today.
The gnik waves to the crowd from the back of a white Cadillac convertible.
At the end of the parade, the gnik leads the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and “America the Beautiful,” then delivers a few words about how Memorial Day is for honoring veterans, including those on the block.
At this year’s Drazi there’s also a “neeuq.” (you guessed it — queen spelled backward).
Usually there either a gnik or a neeuq, and sometimes both. Because of the 50th anniversary, neighbors decided to have both. It’s also a good way to honor this year’s neeuq, Marge Gillen, who has lived on the block the longest, Howard said.
She moved onto the block with her husband, Walt, in 1961 and raised two daughters. Walt, an Army veteran who died in 2006, was one of the people who helped get Drazi started.
Marge, the Izard Street matriarch who collects signatures on cards, said families move away, and new ones arrive, but the heart of the block has not changed.
“It’s caring,’’ she said. “We just make people feel good.”
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