Hot Springs is a city in love with its traditions and festivals that take place year-round, making it a wonderful place to live or visit. On Dec. 9, the 2013 Oaklawn Rotary Club will proudly present its annual Christmas Parade appropriately themed “It’s a Wonderful Life in Hot Springs, Arkansas,” a tradition near and dear to the hearts of many residents. The club, which has been in charge of coordinating the event since 2005, begins planning each year in August. Ideas for themes start getting thrown into the mix, but this year the theme “just stuck,” according to coordinator Lee Richardson.
“We had a lot of great ideas, but this one just kept popping back up, and really it makes perfect sense,” he said. “Once that is decided on, people start getting excited, and by the first week of October we start getting entries.” The parade allows for 85 entries each year ranging from floats to horses to marching bands, and while the event stays true to the spirit of holiday traditions, each year is a little different than the last. “We have some organizations that participate every year, and then there’s always a mix of new participants,” Richardson said. “The ones who participate each year get really competitive – in a fun way – with their entries. It’s always
fun to put the theme out there and see what people come up with because we have some very creative people in this city.” The parade supports several Garland County charities each year, with a $50 fee for each entry. In years past, the entry fee was a case of food to be given to Project Hope Foodbank, however the club found that a monetary donation would benefit the program better. “Unfortunately, some would bring half a case of food or odds and ends that the foodbank didn’t really need,” he said. “But when we started taking a fee and donating those proceeds, the foodbank – which knows what it needs to stock its pantry – was better able to fulfill its needs.” Because the parade also gives back to the community, it was important for the committee to choose a grand marshal to reflect that. Terry Wallace, long time voice of Oaklawn Park and wellknown member of the community, will be the grand marshal, which is something the committee is excited about. “He’s made so many contributions to the community and he’s very excited to represent the parade this year,” Richardson said. “Of course, we’re excited to have him too.” This year, the club has put together an easier way for new participants to submit entries and to keep in touch with past participants. “Now they can submit their application online, and this way we can email them next year around this time about participating again,” Richardson said. “It’s been really successful so far.”
The involvement of the city with the parade is something Richardson said he and the other organizers find remarkable. “Last year the EAST lab at Hot Springs High School filmed the parade, and it got picked up online,” he said. “Correspondents in the Sister City program in Hanamaki got to watch our parade which was really neat.” In the coming weeks as the parade draws closer, the excitement of the season will take over the city. “Last year we had more floats and marching bands than we’ve ever had, and we expect just as much enthusiasm this year,” Richardson said. “Every year it’s new and different all while maintaining that traditional Christmas spirit. That’s really what makes our parade unique.”