Arts & Culture

A splendid spectacle

Courtesy of the Springfield Christmas Parade

While working on this year’s Springfield Christmas Parade, Marilee Woodrow can’t help but become nostalgic about the first time she participated in the parade with her late husband, John. She remembers watching the crowds of people gathered on either side of the floats after a year of planning the event, when John looked at her with tears in his eyes and said, “We’ve got a parade!”

The Woodrows moved to Springfield in 1997 and got involved in the parade two years later. They worked on the parade together each year until John died without warning from a spontaneous cerebral brain bleed last April.

This will be Marilee’s first parade without John. When she speaks of him, her toothy smile widens. John was “a man of his word, he always wanted the best for someone,” she said.

With a permanent smile etched on her face and tears rolling down her cheeks, Marilee explained that her belief in the strong citizenry of Springfield inspires her to work year-round on behalf of the parade, even without her husband.

Marilee said she does everything from answering the phones and getting sponsors to staging and judging the parade. This year, she was taken by surprise when her friends and family chose her to lead the parade as the Grand Marshal, an honor that is recognized by the community. Because John was a Navy Veteran, the honor is especially heartwarming for her.

Betty Schmitt, another volunteer, said this year’s theme of A Holiday for Heroes is “a way to honor John.”

“Everyone has someone they consider a hero, whether it is a military person, a family member, a teacher or a mentor,” Schmitt said.

Dan Egan, who worked with the Woodrows when the Chamber of Commerce was responsible for organizing the parade, said John was the definition of a hero.

“He never called attention to himself,” Egan said. “You don’t always have to be loud and famous to be heroic.”

Schmitt got involved with staging the parade when her daughter’s youth group helped out in 2002. That same year, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce no longer had the resources to maintain the parade, so Marilee, Schmitt, and three others founded the Springfield Community Parade Corporation.

Marilee and Schmitt said their passion for the parade comes from the public. Carrying on the parade tradition is important to the community, and the theme keeps it different each year.

In January, they start brainstorming ways to improve the next year’s parade, and by March or April, they have a theme. When August rolls around, parade work gets more intense and Marilee starts receiving more phone calls.

“I love being an elf from August to December,” Marilee said.

The model of the parade has not changed much since the first ribbon was cut in 1953, but awards and contests have been added since the 50th anniversary. The Window Decorating Contest, which Marilee is proud to have come up with three years ago, is a way for businesses on the parade route to get involved. The Taco Bell on Mohawk Street was one of the winners in last year’s theme, “A Country Christmas,” with images of a burrito as Santa in his sleigh, tacos as reindeers, and taquitos as sleigh runners.

The float participants also get pretty creative. The Golden Wreath Award is given to the float entry that best conforms to the year’s theme. The Tuxedo Award is given to the float entry that best portrays fantasy. The Oregon Tuba Association plays right before the parade to entertain the crowd.

For this year’s theme, Marilee expects to see a lot of floats depicting symbols of heroism.

Schmitt said she looks forward to the Volkswagen Bug snowman every year. A cloth is draped over the car, which serves as the bottom section of an elaborate snowman, she explained.

Float participants range from Boy Scouts to the elderly, and Marilee believes that no one is too old or too young to take part in float decorating.

Some students from the University have even ventured to Springfield to get involved in the parade.

Nicole Mead, a University senior and Miss Lane County 2008, helped decorate a board member’s float last December and rode in the parade. Mead said she and the other pageant girls were asked to wear red to get in the holiday spirit. She said the parade takes a lot of preparation, and riding through such an iconic parade keeps her a little nervous until it is finally over.

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