There is no finer exponent for kicking off the holiday season than the annual Holidays in the Heart of the City & Christmas Parade extravaganza, which this year will start on the evening of Friday, November 18th at 5:30 pm with the Lighting Ceremony at the Saginaw Water Treatment Plan, and conclude with the 8:30 PM Fireworks Display from Ojibway Island, followed by the 39th Annual Christmas Parade the next morning on Saturday, November 20th at 11 AM, featuring floats, marching bands, drill teams, costumed characters, and of course, an appearance by Santa himself!
With involvement from over 20 community organizations, this entire weekend extravaganza is organized through the passionate commitment of community members that comprise Positive Results for Downtown Saginaw, which over the span of 21 years now has drawn tens-of-thousands of people to Saginaw’s Old Town, Downtown, and Ezra Rust Park Drive districts for a jovial and glittering kick-off to the holiday season.
The theme of this year’s Parade is Christmas in Michigan; and according to Positive Results Director Jeanne Conger, the event draws at least 10,000 people, with anywhere from 80 to 100 entries in the parade itself. “It seems to be growing every year,” she enthusiastically notes, “plus we have the Girls on the Run 5K ‘Reindeer Run’ race that gets over 500 people running down the parade route from the start to the end, finishing at the Andersen Enrichment Center.” For the entire two-day Holidays in the Heart of the City celebration, approximately 20,000 people will attend, given the amount of activities going on. (See Back Page of this issue for a full schedule, or visit prideinsaginaw.org)
“We have so much going on that most people can only make it to three events,” notes Jeanne. “Last year’s count at the Zoo involved 2,500 people attending, the activities at the Andersen Center drew another 2,000, and the four churches involved that staged full concerts collectively drew another 2,000 people, plus the activities at the Japanese Tea House were full.”
This year’s Grand Marshall for the parade is Tom Webb, whom has a record of service to the Saginaw community that spans decades; and has served as President of the former Saginaw High School Neighborhood Association and as a representative on Saginaw City Council. “I’ve also served on the committees that built the Saginaw County Veterans Memorial Plaza and restored Michael Jeffers Park downtown, while also serving on the reserve police force for 18 months,” he adds. “Currently I’m working with Tom Mudd to restore the Saginaw Fairgrounds gate, which has kept me pretty busy.”
A transplanted ‘Buckeye’, Tom moved from Ohio to Saginaw in 1969 and taught at Saginaw High and North schools and has always believed in the importance of engaging within one’s community. “My involvement started with trying to keep my neighborhood livable and together and has evolved into these other arenas over the years.”
According to Conger, Webb was selected as this year’s Grand Marshall because of “all the great things he has done and continues to do with his involvement in the City of Saginaw.”
Unveiling the New ‘Grand Marshall’ Float • A Blueprint of Involvement
As with many creative ideas, many of the best are born out of crisis; and last year organizers of the Christmas Parade were confronted with a rather substantial dilemma. “Last year we were somewhat up-ended because we had no Grand Marshall Float for the Christmas Parade, relates Jeanne.
“The company that provided our floats went out of business” explains Conger. “We solved it by using horse drawn wagons last year, and while a horse drawn sleigh worked good for Santa, it wasn’t so good for the Grand Marshall. But fortunately the Saginaw Children’s’ Zoo had a wagon they were no longer using, so they offered to give it to us, only it wasn’t in the best of shape. As fate would have it, one of our Board Members, Ruth Ann Knapp, came up with a brilliant idea that was a win-win situation for all involved.”
“I knew Allen Thompson, who is an instructor at the Saginaw Career Complex trade school,” explains Ruth Ann. “And I also knew that Allen had designed floats before, plus I knew he worked with students in construction and auto repair, so I approached him about developing a project whereby some of his students could help us bring this donation from Zoo up to standard, so it would suffice for our first float. Plus, we approached him about the possibility of building one float per year over the next three years.”
According to Allen, constructing a float is basically a process of fitting a trailer chassis with a wooden deck. “For the Grand Marshall float it’s important to have seats for people to sit and rails for people to stand,” he explains. “Mike’s Wrecker went over and transported the wagon from the zoo to my shop class and also donated the tires for the trailer, and the benefit to my students through this is the problem solving value involved with this project. Clark’s Hardware has donated the paint for this project, and our intent is to make the Grand Marshall Float as functional as possible.”
The entire project has been a synthesis of problem solving and creating something that will endure. “The students needed to figure ways to make everything work, from welding to fabricating special braces, to replacing some of the bolts that were bad,” he continues, “and we did more than a little carpentry work on this project. Plus, the construction students got to watch the auto students work, so it was a great group project for my primary second year students and quite a few of the first year students as well. We probably had a dozen students working on this project over the last month and have worked on it every day for a couple weeks in two-hour sessions, but we’ll be hitting it hard over the next couple weeks to make sure it’s up & running and nicely painted for the parade.”
“Another great thing about this project is that by setting a goal of three floats over three years, by the time we get to that third float, many of the students working on this will have graduated and gone on to other professions and higher learning,” reflects Ruth Ann, “so this project will dovetail nicely into the curriculum that needs to be taught and gives students practical experience.”
According to Conger, McDonald GMC/Cadillac is sponsoring the Grand Marshall Float and Positive Results is also currently looking for hay wagons that people or businesses may wish to donate for their next two floats. “Santa will need a larger float than the Grand Marshall, and our third float will be for the Queens of the Parade.”
As for Ruth Ann Knapp’s involvement with Positive Results Downtown Saginaw, she is candid about its impact. “When I retired from the Saginaw Public Schools I decided the two things. First, I was going to say yes to running for the Saginaw School Board; and secondly, I was going to get more involved with what was then known as PRIDE. I began by helping as a contact person at the schools, to communicate events and parades to make sure the school bands were in attendance. Back then I was more of a facilitator, now I’m more directly involved.”
As for the Grand Marshall, Tom Webb is excited and honored to be serving as Grand Marshall for the inauguration of this brand new float. When asked what he feels about the evolution and progress made throughout the Saginaw community over the years, he pointed to its perseverance.
“I think Saginaw is unique in the sense it’s been able to survive with austere resources and keep the lid on things and still push ahead,” he reflects. “We’ve never had to have an Emergency Manager or anything like that. Our Board of Education has come around and even though they’ve had to make some sacrifices, they’re back on track now; and City Hall is still struggling but able to get things done. Plus, we have things like the Zoo, the Japanese Gardens, and many cultural resources that are unique to our region. All this is positive for any community.”
“As for how I’m preparing for my duties as Grand Marshall at the Christmas parade, it’s hard to say what I should and shouldn’t be doing, but I do know I better best be practicing my smiling and waving!”
The route for the annual Saginaw Christmas Parade will begin in Downtown Saginaw and travel south on South Washington and then West onto Ezra Rust Drive to Ojibway Island. Parade emcees will be Alana Holland, Bryan Bachman & Cameron Ridle of WNEM TV-5.