“There’s no place like home for the holidays,” and for many in the Tristate area, the Owensboro Christmas Parade officially opened the season on November 19. Annually, it is the first Christmas parade held in Kentucky, and one of the largest in the region. Thanks to the endless hours of seven volunteer board members and various community sponsors, this year marked Santa’s 80th appearance in the downtown festivities.
Believe it or not, preparations for next year’s spectacle started the Monday following the parade. Chairman of the Owensboro-Daviess County Christmas Parade Association, Kenny Williams, and the board spend November to November making preparations and raising money. Community input is also factored into several decisions.
Each year, the Grand Marshal is determined based on local accomplishments and public suggestions. This year, Houston Hogg was chosen because his “life is a testament of forgiveness, faithfulness, and honor.” A running back for the Kentucky Wildcats in the 1960s, he was one of the first African American football players at the university, where they recently erected a statue to honor him and three of his teammates. Also, Hogg and his wife of 44 years, Deborah, have fostered over 200 children full-time over the past 25 years and another 300 on a part-time or emergency basis. As Williams explained, “We are just thankful this humble man and family accepted our request to be the Grand Marshal.” The committee already has a few “high-profile guests” in mind for next year, but they also welcome suggestions via email, Facebook, or Twitter.
This year’s Honorary Grand Marshal, Adam Johnston, is no stranger to the Christmas Parade, although he is not usually in the forefront. Johnston started attending the parade at age four, and he served on the committee from 2005-2015. As chairman from 2012-2015, he “spearheaded efforts to bring Florence Henderson, Carson Kressley, and the Clydesdales.” Johnston commented, “Working behind the scenes really gave me a better appreciation of how much work is involved. My goal each year as Chairman was to lead my committee to a successful parade…one that my kids would enjoy and remember.” This year, his children, Ella, Aiden, and Reese, were the first-ever sibling group to be Official Parade Starters.
As with the selection of Grand Marshal, you can nominate someone between now and January who “embod[ies] the heart, spirit, and openness of the Christmas season” to ring the opening bell. Similarly, you can make theme suggestions for 2017; this year’s was “Home for the Holidays.”
The $14,000 needed to fund the parade is not provided by the city of Owensboro as many believe, but by sponsors, donors, vendors, and participating organizations. Vendor applications and parade entries start as early as August and can be made through the website at christmasparade.net. Early-bird pricing typically runs through Halloween. Vendor fees cost approximately $100 for a rolling cart, $125 for a local stand-along booth, or $175 for a booth by an out-of-town merchant. Float entries cost $40 per nonprofit organization and $125 for commercial entries. These fees help cover costs such as port-a-potties, clean-up services, and carriage rentals.
This year’s parade had fourteen sponsors, which was down from recent years. Businesses willing to contribute for 2017 can contact the Owensboro Daviess-County Christmas Parade Association at [email protected]. Individual donations can be made online with a credit card, debit card, or PayPal. “Every cent must be raised every year,” Williams stated. “Every dollar that comes in goes right back out to support the parade.”
Cash prizes for first, second, and third place are awarded in several categories: school or school clubs; organizations, clubs and scouts; churches and church organizations; and commercial, government and municipalities. There is also an overall award for “Most Effective Use of Lighting.” Williams explained that the judges – and even their location along the parade route – are kept confidential. “There is a very detailed, set criteria, [but] I can give you a hint: adherence to theme, lighting, and overall spirit are often elements that tip the scales.”
If you missed the parade en route, you can watch it on Time Warner Cable channel 8 every Wednesday and Saturday at 7:00 PM until Christmas. The dedicated people behind the scenes don’t want you to miss out on the sights and sounds of the bands, the lighted floats, the historic calliope, and of course, Jolly Old St. Nick!