Diane A. Rhodes
HEMET – Rainy weather did not keep hundreds of spectators from lining Florida Avenue Saturday, Dec. 7, to watch the annual Hemet Christmas Parade. The 90-minute parade consisted of 110 entries that included marching bands, dignitaries and youth groups as well as some local businesses, clubs and nonprofits.
With a “March of the Toys” theme, many recognizable characters made their way along the 1.2 mile westbound parade route to the delight of children of all ages.
Grand Marshal Kat Waters is the current president of the Assistance League of Hemacinto. The nonprofit celebrates its 40th anniversary this month.
“All volunteers operate our thrift store and funds go toward our programs,” Waters said. “We have Operation School Bell where any kindergarten through eighth-grade child in the Hemet or San Jacinto school district that is in need is given $85 to spend on new clothing to start the school year; it helps them feel better about themselves.”
The nonprofit also offers a support program for teen parents to encourage them to continue their education. For those who are in the workforce now and want to go back to school, the group offers scholarships to attend Mt. San Jacinto Community College.
Walking with the announcement sign were members Toni Martes and Marilyn Partis, followed by a car with Waters, six-year member Stella Robinson and one of the founding members, Sally Miller-McAlister.
“We had 60 ladies join at the beginning,” Miller-McAlister said. “It’s such a good cause and when I see the smiles on kids’ faces it just warms my heart.”
Hemet Mayor Bonnie Wright said she was happy to choose the group as this year’s grand marshal.
“They do so much for the schoolchildren in the community,” she said. “I try to make sure we recognize longevity and contribution to the valley.”
Catie Stanley is a Girl Scout Leader for Troop 601, part of the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio.
Parade rules restricted candy or other objects from being thrown to parade watchers, but many groups had members walk along the sidelines in order to hand out treats to children who were waving and cheering as they passed by.
San Jacinto Mayor Andrew Kotyuk said riding in the parade reminds him of his childhood in the San Jacinto Valley, where he was born and raised.
“I feel lucky that I get to help pass on the joy of this to kids these days,” he said. “I love this place.”
The McQueen family said they enjoy attending the parade each year.
“We come to support our friends and our schools,” Debbie McQueen, who works at West Valley High School, said.
Her husband, Adam McQueen said the parade is one of the only special events in Hemet, so they look forward to it each year.
“It brings unity to the community,” he said.
Crista Peterson, who was born and raised in Hemet, was joined by 17 family members under the canopy and chairs they set up on the sidewalk about a block from the start of the parade. The youngest attendee of their group was Sophia LaChappa, who turned eight months old the next day.
“We’ve been coming for 20-plus years,” Peterson said.
Her parents, Mike and Sandy Joiner, enjoy watching the marching bands the most. Sandy Joiner used to play clarinet, starting when she was at Hemet Elementary, so she has appeared in a few parades.
“My favorite memory is my mom walking the whole parade route with me,” she said.
Morgan Treadwell, 9, was excited to be at her first live parade. Her family moved to Hemet from Arizona in April.
“We’ve watched parades on TV before but this is so much better,” Morgan’s mother Tracy Roberts said. “I love all the marching bands, and Morgan loves all the characters.”
Florida Avenue and some cross streets were closed to traffic for about two hours to allow for setup before and cleanup after the parade. Parade coordinator Stephany Borders said she likes to keep the entries at about 100 and even with adding on a few extras, she said she had to turn some entries away.
“With 4,800 people in a parade, it becomes a logistics issue to be able to ensure safety,” she said. “I’ve been involved with the parade off and on for about 30 years. I love all the people involved – those in the parade and all those watching along the route – they’re awesome.”
Due to the weather conditions, the Christmas in the Park celebration that usually takes place at the end point of the parade at Gibbel Park, was canceled. A list of winners is available on the Christmas-Parade-of-Hemet Facebook page and trophies will be presented to parade entry winners Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the first city council meeting of 2020.