Four of the five people killed when a red SUV sped into a crowd of participants on Nov. 21, in the annual Christmas parade in Waukesha were members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, an elderly women’s dancing club.
The Dancing Grannies were known for carrying pompoms and entertaining crowds with synchronized routines. The only requisite to join is to be a grandmother.
Waukesha police identified the fatal victims as Virginia ‘Ginny’ Sorenson, 79; Leana ‘Lee’ Owen, 71; and Tamara Durand, 52; and 82-year-old Wilhelm Hospel, the husband of one of the Grannies.
Among the victims was Jane Kulich, 52, a Citizen Bank employee who was murdered while she was strolling alongside the company’s parade float.
“She was here, part of a bank passing out candies with afloat,” said her husband, John Kulich, outside of a crowded, interfaith vigil in Waukesha on Monday night. “She was the best mom, the best wife, the best person I knew.”
Tamara Durand’s most recent Facebook post, published only hours before the tragic events of Sunday night, shows her smiling and holding her pompoms while clothed in a winter coat and cap.
“HERE WE GO!” Durand wrote, adding a few Santa Claus emojis. “First Milwaukee Dancing Grannies parade! So excited!”
Durand’s husband David, 52, said she was the youngest of the Dancing Grannies and had been set to perform with the group for the first time. He remembers his wife as a generous and caring lady who frequently babysat her granddaughter and volunteered to aid dying people.
“She danced her way through life, and she danced when there was no music,” he said. “And she was beautiful and attractive, but it was funny because she ate Twinkies for breakfast. She had more sugar than a sugar factory, but she ran every morning whether it was 15 degrees below or 85 or above.”
Theodore Hospel, 84, said that he was on a golf course in Florida when he learned that his younger brother Wilhelm had been killed. According to his brother, Wilhelm, the eldest of four brothers, died of internal bleeding and pelvic injuries.
“I was talking to him this summer, and he said, ‘Who do you think is going to be the first one to go,’ you know,” Theodore said. “And lo and behold, the youngest one goes first.”
Despite being retired, Theodore said he visited Wilhelm and Lola in Wisconsin frequently and found his brother constantly mending things in a rental house he owned.
“His job was never done, but he was so healthy,” Theodore said. “He was not on any major medication. He was a strong person and even would help me out a lot of times because he was so strong. I cannot believe it. It’s so tragic.”
Sorenson was a grandmother of six and a retired nurse. She helped with the group’s choreographer and was a mentor to some of the newer members of the Dancing Grannies. She kept up her activities with the group despite having a bad back and hip.
“She liked the instructing,” her husband David told the Daily Mail. “She liked the dancing and the camaraderie of the women. She liked to perform.”
Sorenson was planning to take part in the parade from inside a van. But at the last minute, she decided she would help carry the banner at the rear of the group during the procession, according to her husband.
Owen worked as a manager at Packard Glen Apartments for nearly ten years when she wasn’t dancing with the Grannies, reported Daily Mail.
The property owner, Dave Schmidt, stated that his employees placed a note telling the residents of her death.
“This was one of her passions that she truly loved,” the statement said. “She was so proud to be part of this group and lit up when she talked about it.”
On a Facebook message on Monday, the Dancing Grannies expressed their devastation over the tragedy.
“Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness,” the post said. “While performing, the grannies enjoyed hearing the crowds’ cheers and applause, which certainly brought smiles to their faces and warmed their hearts.
“Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies,” the group said in the statement. “Their eyes gleamed …. Joy of being a Grannie. They were the glue …. held us together.”
Citizen Bank paid homage to Kulich in a statement released Monday but did not mention her by name.
“One of our team members who was walking with our parade float was struck and passed away as a result of her injuries,” the statement said. “Our condolences go out to her family and friends for this inconceivable loss. Please lift up our team and the entire community as we all grieve.”
Darrell Brooks, 39, was arrested and charged with five counts of intentional homicide in the attack, which injured 48 people.
According to the district attorney, Brooks was out on an “inappropriately low” bond, which enraged David Durand, husband of the one if the victims, reported NY Post.
He said, “This is a very easy cause and effect when you let somebody out like that. It’s just a nonsensical, stupid thing. It’s not complex: bad guys do bad things, and then he gets out and does more bad things, and people die.”