Tradition alive

Businesses ensure continuity of downtown Christmas parade

One of Phil Bradley’s favorite community events every year is the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade.

“It’s good, clean, fun entertainment. It gets you in the mood for the Christmas season, it gets the family together, and you get to see the joy on the children’s faces,” said Bradley, who lives just outside Lawrence and serves on the planning committee for the 12th annual parade, which will be Dec. 3 in downtown Lawrence.

The event – founded in 1993 by Rob Phillips, former owner of the Eldridge Hotel – features only horse-drawn entries and riding groups in coordinated costumes.

Last year’s parade offered the spectacle of more than 250 horses, including 90 horse-drawn wagons and carriages, moving down Massachusetts Street.

Entrants typically come from across Kansas, as well as Missouri and Iowa, to participate.

For the second year in a row, CornerBank, 4621 W. Sixth St., is the parade’s title sponsor, taking the lead role in organizing the event and helping to raise funds to pay for it.

“To see the excitement on the faces of people watching the parade, especially the kids, it really drives home for me why we do it and makes all the months of planning well worth it,” said Jim Adams, bank president. “This is the type of event that makes Lawrence the unique place that it is, and I’m glad we get to be a part of that.”

Crowds watch the 2004 Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade along Massachusetts Street. Last year's parade had more than 250 horses, including 90 horse-drawn wagons.

Last year’s parade was in danger of being canceled because the Eldridge Hotel, its major sponsor, went into bankruptcy and was sold. Phillips, the hotel’s former owner, said he would not continue the tradition. And, for a time, it looked as though the tradition was over.

But CornerBank took over the sponsorship of the 2004 event, and its staff members led the way in rounding up funds for the parade, which cost a little more than $16,000.

“It was a successful event, and we were very pleased with the outcome. We had estimates of more than 8,000 people at the parade, so there was terrific turnout, with about 120 entries and 50 to 60 (financial) sponsors last year,” said Jana Dobbs, senior vice president at CornerBank.

Last year, more than 80 area businesses and families contributed to the event, among them Downtown Lawrence Inc., Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse, Frontier Farm Credit and Sedona Staffing Services. These businesses also are major sponsors for the 2005 parade.

For a minimum $200 donation, sponsors receive a banner to be hung on the side of the wagons or carriages in the parade.

Aside from all the coordination that’s needed, the event costs a lot of money to pull off.

If you go

What: Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade
When: 11 a.m. Dec. 3
Where: Downtown Lawrence
Admission: free

That’s at least partly because organizers are taking care of hotel rooms for any entrant who needs one; last year, that meant providing 80 free hotel rooms. They will also be hosts of a free barbecue dinner for all entrants the night before the parade at the Knights of Columbus, 2206 E. 23rd St. That means feeding 350 to 400 people.

Among the out-of-town entrants will be a brigade from the Wild Women of the Frontier, a Topeka-based group with 27 members. The organization participates in parades and other events across Kansas, as well as Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kentucky.

Melba Rhudy, of Americus, the group’s event coordinator, said she expected about 10 women to ride their horses in the Lawrence parade.

They’ll do so dressed in outfits meant to portray historical women of the late 1800s, such as Calamity Jane and Belle Starr.

SANTA CLAUS greets spectators from a horse-drawn carriage during the 2004 Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade. CornerBank assumed leadership of the parade last year and also will coordinate the 2005 event, which will be Dec. 3.

“The little kids (along the parade route), you talk to them, tell them to stay in school and get their educations so they won’t become an outlaw like me,” Rhudy said.

“Come hell or high water – and we have literally frozen our tutus off – we’ll be there. Lawrence is our favorite Christmas parade.”

Entrants like the Wild Women of the Frontier give the parade its special character and attract big crowds downtown, according to Dobbs, of CornerBank.

“It’s festive and family-oriented. There were so many kids who were there to see it. Watching them as the horses, carriages and people in costumes came by really gave me a warm and fuzzy holiday feeling,” she said.