Area residents are being asked to think of the Downtown Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade — and not just because the thought of it may cool you down during these 100-degree days.
Instead, longtime parade fans are hoping area residents will step forward to secure the future of the parade, which has been a little shaky since the event lost its primary sponsor earlier this year.
“The future of the event is definitely up in the air more than we would like it to be at this point,” said Jane Pennington, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc.
The parade — which is unique because it includes only horses and horse-drawn vehicles — lost its major sponsor after CornerBank significantly reduced its presence in Lawrence by selling its most of its local retail banking operations to Landmark National Bank in January.
With the loss of CornerBank, the parade also lost a major source of its volunteers. The bank had about 10 Lawrence employees who provided volunteer work for the parade throughout the year. On parade day, about 30 CornerBank employees from other branches around the state would arrive in Lawrence to help, said Jana Dobbs, a parade organizer and CornerBank executive.
“We would love to be able to do it again, but because of how we’ve had to reduce the size of our staff due to the economy, we just can’t,” Dobbs said.
But Dobbs still is optimistic that the parade will go on. She said other parade supporters have been seeking a new primary sponsor for the event, and working on ideas to generate a pool of volunteers.
Dobbs said discussions with a potential sponsor have begun, but said it was too early to say whether a deal would be struck.
The parade traditionally attracts 8,000 to 10,000 people to Downtown Lawrence near the start of the holiday shopping season.
“I think there would be a lot of disappointment if it didn’t go on,” Pennington said. “It has become such a great tradition. It would be a major loss.”
Dobbs said while money is an issue for the parade, an equally large need is an organization that can coordinate all the various pieces of the event. The parade traditionally has secured complimentary hotel rooms for the more than 100 entrants in the parade. The organizers also secure stable space at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, and provide participants a free evening meal on Friday and a free breakfast on Saturday.
Much of the planning needs to be done well in advance of the parade, which usually happens in early December.
“I still think it is going to all come together because people love it,” Dobbs said. “We get thank you letters all the time. We have people tell us that it really is the epitome of what Lawrence is all about.”
People interested in volunteering or sponsoring the parade can contact Dobbs at firstname.lastname@example.org