From a humble beginning in 1993 with 21 horse-drawn vehicles traveling down Massachusetts, the Lawrence Christmas Parade has grown to a major event in the Midwest with as many as 85 entries in recent years. Originally named “The Eldridge Hotel Old Fashioned Christmas Parade,” this event was the dream of Robert W. Phillips, a local businessman and General Manager of the newly renovated Eldridge Hotel. This hotel plays a significant role in Lawrence and Kansas history, having twice been burned to the ground and twice rising from the ashes.
As news of this event spread, the number of entries increased each year and the crowds who came to watch grew dramatically, along with the expenses involved to support it. Fortunately, several local business people “grabbed the reins” and recruited other businesses to sponsor an entry and display a banner which allowed the parade to continue. When the Eldridge Hotel was sold in 2004, another business stepped in and took the reins. Recognizing the reputation of this parade and the value to the city of Lawrence, CornerBank became the new corporate sponsor and the parade was renamed “The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade.” With entries traveling from as far away as Texas, Minnesota and North Dakota, the parade had acquired national recognition and demanded a tremendous amount of resources to support. CornerBank generously provided these and the tradition continued. When the only thing certain is change, the sale of CornerBank in 2009 required new leadership for the parade and several local businesses and volunteers stepped up to the challenge. Formed in 2007 by CornerBank, The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade, LLC, is now under the direction of Kennedy Glass, Inc., Zarco 66, Inc. and Bradley Farms as general managers. Elaine Vandeventer has been the director and driving force of the parade since 2007. Other members are the Chamber of Commerce of Lawrence, KS, Downtown Lawrence, Eldridge Hotel Partners, LLC, The World Company, Schumm Foods Co., and Dunn’s Landing.
With funding a major concern, fate stepped in and provided the perfect partner for The Lawrence Christmas Parade. The Lawrence branch of Wells Fargo Advisors, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company founded in 1852, became the new corporate sponsor in 2009. A better company to join in a celebration of our heritage could not have been found and the official Wells Fargo Stagecoach travels down Massachusetts St. each year on the first Saturday in December! With the financial support of Wells Fargo Advisors, the City of Lawrence, numerous local businesses and individuals and hundreds of volunteer hours from countless individuals, the last 3 years have been hugely successful. For 2012, Wells Fargo Advisors has stepped up to become the premier sponsor for the 20th Anniversary of the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade.
Word of this event continues to spread and the number of people watching has grown year after year, numbering upward of 10,000. Although weather is always an unpredictable factor, parade-watchers begin gathering several hours before starting time to settle in, bringing blankets, chairs and even a recliner from home! The excitement is contagious and it’s hard to tell whether the entries or the spectators are having more fun. Traditions are an important part of life and help keep us grounded when things around us are in constant change. May the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade continue as a tradition for many more years.
Horsepower; defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a standard unit of power equal to 550 foot-pounds per second.” A horse of a different color (quite a different matter), hold your horses (don‘t be impatient), from the horse’s mouth (from the source), to horse around (to fool around), on a high horse (behaving with arrogance). Has any other animal had such an enduring impact on our language? Or on our history? Where would we be today if the horse had not carried us from one place to another, cleared and plowed our fields for food crops, transported our goods to markets? Why do such large and powerful animals allow themselves to be controlled by a much smaller human?
Although horses are no longer an integral part of our daily lives, they still command a fascination and devotion by a select group of people. It’s sometimes difficult to determine why you’ve been bitten by the “horse-bug” but it’s impossible to ignore. Most of us recognize the symptoms at an early age but it may take a lifetime to satisfy the craving. With enough power to kill us, those who have learned the language to communicate their wishes to horses are blessed with a relationship second to none.
With the invention of the combustion engine, the power structure of American agriculture and transportation changed and the work horses became artifacts of history. Some of the relics left behind were retired and allowed to grow old in a pasture. Unfortunately, others found their way into a can of dog food. One thing endured and we still quantify power in terms of “horsepower.”
Although most of us think of draft horses and mules as something grandpa or great-grandpa used to have, there remains a dedicated group of people who believe we need to preserve and propagate this legacy. These horses have become an expensive and labor intensive hobby for those who have the addiction, which is fortunate for those of us who get to see them in action. The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade is the perfect venue to see them at their best. One of the few exclusively horse drawn parades in the United States and the only one in the Midwest, this parade is uniquely a celebration of the horse!
Over the last 19 years, most every draft breed has been showcased in the Lawrence Parade. Most of the draft breeds were originally developed in Northern Europe for warfare, bred to bear the substantial weight of a warrior in armor. Covered in armor themselves, they charged into battle and mowed down everything in their paths, much like the tanks of modern warfare which ultimately replaced them. Having been bred for great strength and size, they found their way into agriculture and transportation and were imported to the United States in the late 1800‘s for similar jobs. They are the largest of horse breeds, weighing in between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds.
There are 5 major breeds of draft horses and the Percheron may be the most widely distributed in the United States. Named after The Perche, one of the smallest provinces in old France southeast of Paris, this area of green hills and lush valleys is well suited to stock raising. Most often black or gray, Percherons are big horses with a lot of animation and stamina.
Of equal importance and notoriety, the Belgian has always dominated the horse pulling sport and is most often seen in the field with a plow. Most commonly chestnut, sorrel or roan in color, they are a sturdy breed which originated in Belgium and proved to be easy to keep and ship which added to their popularity.
For current city dwellers, the Clydesdale may well be the best-known of the draft breeds, thanks to the Budweiser hitch. At one time or another, almost everyone has seen this magnificent team of horses in parades and celebrations throughout the country. The Clyde has a white face and white feathered legs with superb action and flashy looks. This breed is native to the Clyde River valley region in Scotland and has the most substantial feet of the draft breeds.
The last 2 major draft breeds are the Shire and the Suffolk. Both originated in England with the Shire finding his job pulling heavy loads along the docks of Liverpool and London and the Suffolk turning the heavy soil in Norwich and Suffolk counties. As a breed, the Suffolk is known as a “farmers’ horse” because of its durability and willingness to work. The Shire has become a very bold moving horse and dominates hitch competitions in its native country.
Horses of all sizes and colors can be seen in the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade. And if you are looking for something special, you won’t be disappointed!
History of Parade Entries
Over the past 19 years, The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade has featured some spectacular hitch wagons. Ames Percheron Farms, a division of Ames Construction, brought 8 Percherons all the way from Jordan, Minnesota, to pull their shiny red freight wagon down Massachusetts St. The Lawrence office of Express Employment Professionals sponsored the Express Clydesdales, 6 rare and beautiful black and white Clydesdales pulling the bright blue Express Wagon. Pennington Seed Company brought their corporate high-wheeled wagon with 6 Percherons to make the trek through downtown. For the last 3 years, Wells Fargo Advisors has brought the nationally famous and authentic Wells Fargo Stagecoach for this event. The Lawrence office of Wells Fargo Advisors, a national investment firm, has been the major corporate sponsor for the parade for the last 3 years. For the 20th anniversary celebration of the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade, Wells Fargo Advisors has increased their support and will be the premier sponsor. Thank you Wells Fargo Advisors! The parade could not go on without you. And with a little bit of luck, the 20th anniversary will highlight the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales! According to Kevin O’Malley, owner of O’Malley Beverage of Kansas, Inc., an application to appear has been submitted but confirmation will not be made until 60 days prior to the event. O’Malley, a longtime supporter of the parade, has generously offered to cover the substantial cost of bringing the hitch to Lawrence.
The real star of the parade, however, is an entry that will also be celebrating it’s 20th year in the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade. Don and Connie Werner, owners of Werner Wagon Works in Horton, Kansas, have been an integral part of this event from the very beginning in 1993. The Werners have been building new and restoring horse drawn vehicles for more than 25 years. They also devote a substantial amount of time to teach the history of our great country and the westward movement that occurred in the 1800’s. Don is a wainwright and wheelwright and built the covered wagon which has become familiar to all parade watchers. Although humble in stature, their covered wagon represents the most significant mode of transportation used by our ancestors in their westward trek, and that’s what this parade is really about. In the early years, the wagon was pulled by a pair of Percheron cross draft mules. Sadie and Sara made many trips down Massachusetts St. entertaining the spectators and enjoying their job. But when illness sidelined Sara, both were sold to someone with the time to nurse Sara back on a long road to recovery. For those who have owned and worked a team of draft horses, they understand that separation can often lead to the death of one or both from sadness and depression. Teams become bonded at an early age and are kept and worked together during their training. Anyone who’s visited an Amish community has probably seen young horses tethered together in a pasture in preparation for their work as a pulling team.
Another type of partnership was formed about 10 years ago when Chuck Streit from Dubois, Nebraska, began bringing his team to pull the Werner wagon. At 85 years young, Chuck plans for this event all year. In 2011, he hitched 4 horses abreast and he’s working on 4 abreast plus 2 more in front for 2012. This will require special harnessing and talent to drive but with Chuck’s determination he will make it work!
So how did Don and Connie Werner become so firmly entrenched in a parade in Lawrence, Kansas? Perhaps it was fate that their paths crossed with Robert W. Phillips, the parade founder. In the fall of 1992, Phillips purchased a carriage at a sale in Waverly, Iowa, but had no way to transport it back to Kansas. Always willing to help, Don and Connie agreed to haul it and a friendship began. In 1993, Rob joined the Werners and others on a wagon train beginning in Westmoreland, Kansas, with plans to travel westward along the Oregon Trail to Marysville where the wagon train became a parade with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. Rob brought his enthusiasm home and with the help of Don, Connie and others, the Eldridge Old Fashioned Christmas Parade made its debut in December, 1993.
Besides driving their covered wagon down Massachusetts St., Don and Connie have walked in many different shoes, or perhaps boots is a better description, to make this parade a success. For several years, Connie made enough chili, potato salad and other fixings to feed more than 100 people the night before the parade. And all of this was done in Phillips’ barn! Don and Connie have been around to greet entries traveling from other cities on Friday night, talked to countless people about coming to the parade to watch or bring an entry, helped with emergency repairs when a hitch has a problem, and scooped an unknown amount of poop! Perhaps the only constant this parade has had, Connie has devoted countless hours to educating committee members as the local parade organization has evolved. She is aptly named!
And any review of the parade history would be remiss without including Allen and Velora Prell, who will also be celebrating their 20th year. Following close behind at 19 years are Dave and Melva Sanner and Kenny Nelson. Between the Werners, the Prells, the Sanners and Nelson, some hearty horse people were recruited to form the “Advance Party.” This dedicated group travels from around Kansas, arrives on Thursday evening for a brief reunion of their own and are up early Friday morning working at the fairgrounds. They greet entries, haul panels, construct stalls and prepare identification and contact information. In recent years, more than 100 horses have needed an overnight home after a day of traveling. A more enthusiastic group of people could not be found and it’s obvious they share a love of horses and a strong bond of friendship. And if this isn’t enough, Allen, Dave and Kenny are in the saddle early on Saturday morning along with well-seasoned parade outriders Glenn Hajney, Eldon Pickett, Glenn Hermann, John Christofer, Mike Johnson and recent recruit, Oscar Scheetz. These veterans of many Lawrence parades are true horsemen. They escort parade entries and are constantly on the alert for anyone who may need assistance. New in 2011 was a group from the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse and back for a second year were 7 real cowboys from cattle ranches in Kiowa and Comanche counties in Kansas and 1 from Freedom, Oklahoma. All these people help insure that the entries and spectators can enjoy a safe event. For the 20th Anniversary Parade, Allen Prell, the king of all outriders, will be leading the event as the Grand Marshall.
Lawrence, Kansas, is extremely lucky to have one of the few exclusively horse drawn parades in the United States and the only one in the Midwest. Over the years, entries have come from 8 different states and life-long friendships have been forged. This could only happen through the inspiration and hard work of people dedicated to preserving our national heritage and sharing a love and respect for the horses who made our progress possible. The smiles and cheers of the crowds who come to watch and learn are the only “Thanks” they want. Hopefully, this marvelous event will continue many more years!
30 November 2009
Parade Entrants Come From Afar
Lawrence, KS – In 1983 John Palmquist couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the broken down carriage in the ditch on his farm. “All of the iron work was there but the wood had completely rotted away,” stated Palmquist, a former cabinetmaker from Stanton, Iowa. John and his wife Charlotte purchased the land the surrey was found on in 1978. “We think the surrey was left there by the decedents of the first owners of the farm, probably in the 1940s,” Palmquist continued. The surrey is an 1895 vintage and a very high style rig of its time.
Retired from farming, John took on the job of restoring the surrey to its former splendor. Working in
his shop, he used wood produced by his own sawmill. He hired an Amish community in Ohio to built
new wheels to fit the original hubs and bearings. Another Amish group in Jamesport Missouri covered
the fenders with patent leather, upholstery and patent leather dashboard to John’s exacting standards.
Jennifer Hansen, a close friend from Clarinda, Iowa and owner of the team of horses that pulls the
surrey, also participated in the restoration project. The entire project took six months and cost the
Palmquists about $3,000. “We are looking forward to bringing our rig to the Lawrence Parade this year. “It will be wonderful opportunity to show off this beautiful surrey,” stated John.
Hitch Wagon from Inauguration Parade
In the spring of 2008 Werner Wagon Works, owned by Don and Connie Werner, of Horton, Kansas,
was contracted by McCrossan Boys Ranch of Sioux Falls South Dakota to build a “show hitch wagon”,
a 12 foot long by 65” wide horse-drawn wagon, built for show or commercial use. Late in 2008, the ranch was selected from over 1200 entries to participate in President Obama’s Inauguration Parade, with a group of boys riding in the hitch wagon, drawn by a team of 6 Belgian horses.
The McCrossan Ranch for Boys was founded in 1948 to create a home where at risk boys could find
“new hope for a better life.” The hitch wagon is a critical part of that mission, according to Ranch
spokesperson Troy Geis. “Our hitch wagon program is a big part of not only how we market what we do
with young people, but is an integral part of our therapeutic program as well. We are looking forward to bringing the boys and the new hitch wagon to downtown Lawrence. We’ve heard so much about the
parade, and it will be a wonderful learning experience for the boys,” continued Geis.
The Lawrence Christmas Parade takes place on December 3rd at 11 a.m. and travels down
Massachusetts Avenue south from 7th Street to 12th Street.
Major Sponsors are the Wells Fargo Advisors and the City of Lawrence. Gold Sponsors include the
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Kern Group, Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Willis
Insurance, The World Company, Kennedy Glass, Eldridge Hotel, Buffalo Bobs, Zarco 66 and Bradley
6 November 2009
Hank Booth Interviews Connie Werner on KLWN, 1320 AM
on According to the Record show on the road at the Eldridge
5 November 2009
OLD-FASHIONED CHRISTMAS PARADE TO FEATURE
AMES EIGHT-HORSE HITCH
One of the nation’s premier horse-drawn holiday parades will be featuring its
newest and grandest entry: The Ames Percheron Farm eight-horse hitch.
The farm is a division of Ames Construction, Inc. of Burnsville, Minnesota.
The family-owned and operated, heavy construction company continues a family
tradition with Percheron horses dating back 130 years.
Acting as ambassadors for Ames Construction, the Ames Percheron Farm’s
eight-horse hitch represents the work ethic and integrity that the family continues
to promote. Ames Construction operations include airports, roads, bridge
building, heavy civil mining as well as residential and golf communities.
The Ames hitch of dapple gray geldings can be seen making appearances
throughout the United States and Canada at parades, shows and exhibitions.
Travis Shaw is the manager and trainer, assisted by Randy Riemer and
“This eight horse hitch will be the largest hitch ever in our 17 year history!”
says Philip Bradley, parade chair. “We are excited that we are able to
host this spectacular hitch in Lawrence for the children of all ages attending
the parade.” “We cherish all our local and regional entries, over 70 so far,
and know they enjoy seeing this large national show rig as much as
we will!” Bradley continued.
This year’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade is on Saturday, December 5,
starting at 11am. Admission is free. The parade runs along Massachusetts
Street from, 7th to 13th, in downtown Lawrence. Santa Claus will be
the parade’s grand finale.
11 October 2009
Organizers Call on Community to Support 16-Year Tradition
8 October 2009
Organizers of Annual Christmas Parade Call for Community Volunteers