This family has attended Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for 65 straight years

The Ruane clan has been gathering on 57th Street in New York City for the annual parade since 1954 through times of sadness and joy.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

A family tradition that has lasted for 65 years began when Mary Ruane made the simple request for her husband to get the kids out of her hair for a few hours while she cooked the Thanksgiving meal.

Her mother, Mae Murray, had worked at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the 1930s and suggested that her son-in-law, Jack Ruane, take the kids from their home in Brooklyn to go check it out that morning in 1954.

A tradition of attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City began in 1954 for the Ruane family and is still going strong. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

Nearly seven decades later, through wedding proposals, pregnancy announcements, deaths of loved ones, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, the family continues to gather every year on 57th Street and Seventh Avenue in New York City.

There will be another large gathering Thursday at the 93rd annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will air live on NBC starting at 9:30 EST.

"There's been good times and bad over all the years, but it's always a time to reflect and just celebrate being together,'' Kenny Ruane, who was 6 years old when the tradition began, told TODAY.

Kenny, 71, who is a retired New York City firefighter, usually shows up around 5 a.m. to claim a spot on the parade route for the family get-together, which can swell to 50 or more people.

All of the children in the family are then ushered to the front to get a close-up view of the floats, marching bands and the iconic balloons of characters like Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Retired New York City firefighter Kenny Ruane isn't hard to find on 57th Street and Seventh Avenue when he stakes out the annual spot for the family. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

The gathering is so large that Kenny wears a turkey hat and a pennant that says "Ruane" on it that is taped to his back and juts up 6 feet over his head so the family can find him in the crowd.

"It still is just as fun as when we were kids,'' he said.

Kenny and his brother Terry, a retired firefighter who died at 69 in 2015, started the tradition with their father. Once they hit their teens and stopped going every year, their three sisters — Tricia, Mary Ellen and Kathleen — all kept up the yearly tradition.

Once they all started having children in the late 1960s and early 1970s, another generation was attending every year.

The Ruane family always makes sure to get the children up front to see the parade. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro
The gatherings have gotten up to 50 people over the years. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro
"It still is just as fun as when we were kids,'' Kenny Ruane said.Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro
The gatherings have swelled immensely since beginning to grow in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

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One of the most memorable parades for the family came in 1997 when Tom Sullivan got down on one knee and proposed right in front of the barricade to his now wife, Debbie, who is Terry's daughter.

"What's funny is that my husband is not really a public person," Debbie Sullivan, 48, told TODAY. "He's actually super private, so that was certainly not anything I was expecting him to do.

"He kept asking me to take a picture with him in the street, and as I'm talking to my sister to tell her to take a picture, she's like, 'Look down,' and he's down on one knee. Everyone was going crazy."

Tom Sullivan proposed to his now wife, Debbie, at the family gathering during the 1997 parade. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

Tom clearly had a sense of what the parade means to the Ruane family.

"The big takeaway was that he knew how important it was not just to me, but for us,'' she said. "He did it in style and did this big grand gesture for us."

The joy of the 1997 parade was contrasted by the somber feeling at the 2001 parade in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. However, it was also a year in which the family was especially thankful to see Tom, Kenny and Terry standing on 57th Street with everyone else.

Tom was working for Fiduciary Trust on the 95th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when he saw the first plane hit the north tower. Just a day earlier, he and Debbie had announced to everyone that she was pregnant with twins.

The family is now on its third generation of kids attending the parade. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

Tom, who is an Army reservist, helped usher more than a hundred people to safety by having them evacuate the building. He was awarded the Soldier's Medal by the Army in 2011 for bravery in a non-combat situation.

Debbie and Tom had an emotional moment together at the parade that year when she gave him a new wedding band. He had taken the original one off earlier in the day at work and forgotten to grab it before evacuating the building.

The Ruane brothers also survived after rushing to ground zero as firefighters and digging through rubble in search for survivors.

"We were a really lucky family, and we said that on Thanksgiving that year,'' Kenny said.

The family debated even attending the parade that November.

"We questioned going after 9/11 because we were wondering if it was safe," Terry's daughter Allyson Losquadro, 38, told TODAY. "We decided it was something to lift our spirits, and why be sad about this horrible tragedy and then be sad that we broke the tradition?"

Another emotional gathering at the parade came after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when Debbie and Tom's home in the Breezy Point neighborhood in Queens was destroyed by the storm only a few weeks earlier.

"In times of joy and sorrow, we'll still go,'' Debbie said.

Attending the parade has been a family tradition for 65 years. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

The family felt a large void at the parade in 2015 when Kenny suffered a heart attack at his home on Nov. 24 and had to be shocked back to life, just six months after his brother's death.

"When I was in the hospital, they didn't think I was going to make it,'' he said.

He obviously was unable to attend the parade.

"My sister (Suzanne Mooney) and I are the oldest of the cousins, and I looked at her, and I said, 'This is it, this is our moment where now we have to do it,''' Debbie recalled. "We're in our 40s, and we still felt too young to take over. We were not prepared for that moment, and I thought, the Lord is giving Kenny back because we're not ready."

Kenny's son-in-law, Kris Luna, donned the turkey hat and the Ruane pennant that year and staked out their usual spot to keep the tradition going.

A year later, it was back to joyous news at the parade when Allyson's sister-in-law, Nicole Losquadro, wore a special shirt in 2016 that said "there's a little turkey in this oven" to announce her pregnancy to cheers from the family.

Nicole Losquadro announced her pregnancy in style during the family gathering at the 2016 parade. Courtesy / Allyson Losquadro

Several family members have also been active participants in the parade. In the 1990s, Tricia Ruane surprised the family by showing up in disguise.

"My mom showed up on a float dressed as a clown and ran over to us throwing confetti saying, 'Who's the queen?!''' Allyson said.

In the 2000s, Kenny's brother-in-law, Dominick Vulpis, and his son, Dom Jr., who are in the NYPD, got to hold the balloons as they made their way down the route. Vulpis' daughter, Kerrianne, is a member of the NYPD band and has also marched in the parade.

"Boy, is it a wonderful experience,'' Kenny said. "I've met people from all over the country and made so many friends because of the parade. It just makes you feel good."

Kenny is looking forward to his 8-year-old granddaughter from California and 6-year-old granddaughter from Florida taking in the festivities on Thursday as the next generation of the family continues the tradition.

The whole thing began with a simple request on Thanksgiving morning from Mary Ruane, who died at 96 last year.

Even if family members are going to different houses for Thanksgiving dinner later in the day, they are always together at the parade.

It isn't any particular float or balloon that they look forward to seeing every year.

"We're there together,'' Debbie said. "It's always going to be that we are there for each other."