Like something out of a Hallmark Channel movie, not even two days after the cancellation of O’Fallon’s Christmas parade, a rallied community promised to keep the tradition alive.
The O’Fallon Homecoming Association announced on Wednesday its decision to give up sponsorship of the parade, due to lack of manpower and money.
“The O’Fallon Homecoming Association, we are very saddened we can’t continue with it, but we are all getting up there in age and have various ailments,” said Roger Van Etten, chairman of the O’Fallon Homecoming Association, who has been a part of the organization since 1989 and involved with the Christmas parade since its beginning.
After the announcement, a scramble ensued to find volunteers to keep the parade going. Late Thursday afternoon, the city announced that mission had been accomplished.
“When we learned of the possible cancellation of the Christmas parade, the city immediately began to take action in order to save the event. In the past 48 hours, I have heard from a number of local companies and individuals that were interested in stepping up to help keep this event alive,” Mayor Herb Roach said.
The city was able to recruit a local O’Fallon resident and businesswoman Beth Ortega to serve as chairperson and coordinator of the parade. As a result, the parade will go on as planned — at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25 in downtown O’Fallon.
“I looked at it and said, ‘You can’t cancel Christmas. That can’t happen. Christmas can’t start without Santa arriving,’ ” said Ortega, of the Beth Ortega Group (RE/MAX).
Ortega said the parade is something that has spanned all points in her life — from marching in it high school, to taking her children to it, to participating with her business. Ortega, who now has a toddler, said the parade is something she couldn’t let her youngest child, and the rest of the kids of O’Fallon, do without.
“I just didn’t think it it was fair for all my other kids to get a Christmas parade and my 2-year-old to miss out,” she said.
The parade, which is typically held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, has been a tradition for the past quarter century or so. In the beginning, finding the necessary help was no problem, Van Etten said. In its heyday, the Homecoming Association had about 25 members who would regularly attend meetings, and double that many would come out to help with the homecoming itself.
However, membership in the Homecoming Association has dwindled since the community quit holding a summer festival around a decade ago. That has meant the work of the Christmas parade has fallen upon the shoulders of an ever-shrinking group. Last year, only two people showed up to help build the six floats for the parade.
“We put the word out on things like Facebook, saying we needed builders, but no one showed up,” Van Etten said.
At one time, the parade had several floats from community groups and businesses, Van Etten said. Such groups would either completely craft a float themselves, or they would borrow one of the Homecoming Association’s 10 wagons but pay for their own materials and construct their floats themselves. But that had not been the case of late. The Homecoming Association had been building most large parade entries, Van Etten said, and footing the cost.
“We would have to pay for it out of our own pocket, and one of the reasons we had to stop was because we just can’t afford it out of our own pocket,” Van Etten said.
That tide seems to have turned. As of Friday morning, Ortega said around 50 people had reached out expressing willingness to volunteer, another 25 businesses and organizations had contacted her saying their wanted to have an entry in the parade.
“My phone and email have been blowing up. So that’s fantastic,” Ortega said.
Van Etten said he will be there to lend a hand any way he can.
“I will be there,” he said.
“I want to thank the Van Etten family for the many years of involvement with the parade, homecoming, and many other activities in the community,” Roach said. “This is why I love this community and why it continues to be the No. 1 community in the area — because of the great people.”
But you can never have too much help. More volunteers are still being sought.
“I can’t say thank you enough to those that have volunteered already, and for those who may volunteer in the future for keeping this great tradition alive. Many more volunteers are still needed,” Roach said.
Ortega said she knows it is going to be a hectic few weeks trying get everything organized, but she’s confident the community will come together to pull it off.
“We got this. We can do it,” she said. “We have to have a Christmas parade. It’s not Christmas without it.”