The annual Old-Fashioned Lawrence Christmas Parade is alive and well, and thousands of people who gathered Saturday in downtown Lawrence to watch the steady procession of decorative horse-drawn wagons were happy to see it.
"This is the best thing Lawrence does every year," said Karla Grether, as she and her husband, David, both of Lawrence, stood on a concrete flower bed to see over the crowd at Seventh and Massachusetts streets. "This is just so special."
The parade along Massachusetts included more than 120 entries, most of them wagons of various sizes and types. There were buggies, covered wagons, a stagecoach and a hearse. The horses were as varied as the wagons they pulled.
Jarek Kansk watched the parade with his 2-year-old daughter, Klaudie, perched on his shoulders.
"This is pretty nice," said Kansk, a native of Poland now living in Lawrence. "There are a lot of different breeds of horses, from small ones to big Bud Light commercial horses."
The parade was in danger of being canceled this year because the Eldridge Hotel, its major sponsor, went into bankruptcy and was sold. Rob Phillips, the hotel's former owner who founded the parade 11 years ago, said he would not continue the tradition. And for a time, it appeared Lawrence's holiday season had lost a tradition.
But CornerBank, 4621 W. Sixth St., took over the sponsorship, and staff members became a driving force in funding the parade, which was said to cost a little more than $16,000.
And bank president Jim Adams retained Phillips as a key organizer.
"I think it exceeded everybody's expectations," said Barbara Braa, a CornerBank employee involved in organizing the event. "We had a lot of positive comments from participants and a lot of people who came to town for this particular event."
There were few problems Saturday, although one horse became nervous and difficult to control just before the start of the procession. It was taken out of line, Braa said.
"I think Jim Adams and his group did a wonderful job," said Gus Barnett, one of the drivers of an original 1882 horse-drawn hearse owned by Barnett Funeral Home in Oskaloosa and Lawrence Funeral Chapel. "The weather was great and so was the crowd."
This was the first time Barnett's hearse had been in the Lawrence parade. And he said he intended to be back next year.
Also riding in the parade for the first time were Leonard Taylor, Fillmore, Mo., and Richard Baumli, Barnard, Mo. They said they planned to bring back their high-wheeled wagon pulled by two huge, Belgian mules, for next year's parade.
"It's a great parade with a huge crowd," Taylor said.
Art Cunningham and his wife, Ladi Cunningham, discovered the parade three years ago and have returned every year since. The Indianola, Iowa, couple make it a point to see the parade while tending to business in the Kansas City area and visiting a daughter in Olathe.
"It's a unique parade for this place," Art Cunningham said. "We like the variety of the wagons and all the people."
The Cunninghams and the Grethers said they hoped sponsorships would continue so the parade will return in future years.
"I hope the Chamber of Commerce and others can get behind it," Karla Grethers said.
CornerBank already is looking forward to sponsoring the annual event again, Braa said.
"We hope to continue it next year," she said.