Shirley Brown-VanArsdale is pictured here with Bing Carter who together co-announced the Johnson County Fair Parade for many years. File photo
Special to The Gardner News
The 2017 Johnson County Fair starts on July 30, and that means it’s time again for the volunteers who organize the parde to get to work. This year’s fair parade is on Saturday, Aug. 5 at 10:30 a.m., the last day of the fair. The parade is sponsored by the Gardner Edgerton Chamber of Commerce.
It takes more than 20 volunteers to work the parade on the day of the event.
A number of volunteers are needed in the registration area, and more in the staging area, where the floats line up. They make sure the floats take off in the right order, to match the list the announcers at the grandstand use to identify and describe floats to the judges.
Some of those volunteers begin working long before the parade day. Registrations have to be processed and much planning is required to make the event run smoothly.
Most of those organizers have been working the parade for decades.
“The people that help with the parade, it seems like once they get involved with it, they stay for years,” says Gini Liveley.
Liveley is one of those people who stayed for years – she worked the parade for four decades before retiring from it in 2014.
Shirley Brown-VanArsdale is another Gardner citizen whose name will always be mentioned when discussing the history of the Johnson County Fair Parade.
Referring to the core group of long time volunteers she has worked with in past years, Brown-VanArsdale says, “Local people do this, and they didn’t just do it for awhile, they did it until they couldn’t do it anymore.”
As the grandstand announcer, Brown-VanArsdale has been the voice of the parade for over 40 years. The first time she announced was in the 1970’s, when she had to fill in for Mayor Cline Hart.
Hart was scheduled to announce but lost his voice during fair week that year. Brown-VanArsdale did the last minute fill in and has done it every year since.
She will do it again this year on Aug. 5.
Brown-VanArsdale says that in all those years, she can only remember three times the parade was rained out and thinks that’s pretty lucky.
She can’t forget one time, during wet weather, when she got shocked from her microphone.
“I said, ‘I’m buzzing’ and everyone just laughed at me,’” she says.
Lively remembers being lucky with the weather, too.
“It’ll be pouring down rain at 8:30, and we think there’s no way we can have the parade, then it clears up just in time and off we go,”says Liveley.
Liveley also remembers some really hot days.
“The Do-si-do square dancers always played music from records on the float, and one year the record warped, it was so hot,” she recalls with a laugh.
The weather is not the only thing that sometimes produces unexpected conditions.
Brown-VanArsdale laughs while describing one year when competing politicians were given the microphones to say a few words, and she had a hard time getting her microphone back.
“It was an election year, and Pat Roberts and Dennis Moore got the microphones and started announcing,” she says, and goes on to describe how once the politicians got started, they didn’t want to stop.
“Finally, I just took the microphones away – and they laughed – and I think there was even some applause,” said Brown-VanArsdale.
The one thing that both ladies say is the best improvement, is when the county fair and the parade started having a yearly theme.
“Bill Gay came up with the idea of a yearly theme for the whole fair” says Lively.
Parade floats take the cue and try to play off the theme.
Brown-VanArsdale says that the theme invites the announcers to joke about how floats reflect the theme, or not, and creates a lot of fun and laughter.
“It’s just a fun hour and a half,” she says.
The theme for 2017 is ‘Barn in the USA’.
The entry deadline for parade float registrations is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2. Late entries will be allowed to participate but will not be judged or their description announced.