Thousands line Florida Avenue for Hemet’s biggest-ever holiday parade
■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor
In what could be seen as a sign of prosperous times, more than 15,000 people turned out to watch Hemet’s parade celebrating the approaching Christmas and holiday season.
It was a family event, it was free, and it was on a Saturday. Those three factors coalesced to attract a record number of parade watchers who lined Florida Avenue from Palm to Kirby where the parade ended at Gibbel Park. It took a solid 2 ½ hours for all the floats, marching bands, tractors and participants to pass by.
The chilly morning saw people bundled up in blankets and staking out their special viewing areas in lawn chairs, for this was Hemet’s Rose Parade, and they weren’t about to miss it. This year an amazing 4,000 people participated in the parade that featured 107 entries, according to Stephany Borders, longtime organizer of the parade for the city and owner of Party Planners catering.
The parade in fact keeps getting bigger every year, and this year’s was infused with as much energy as you would want before things start to get out of control. Police motorcycles with flashing lights and sirens drove back and forth along Florida in advance of the first flag-bearing marchers to ensure everyone was out of the street and onto the sidewalk before the parade reached them.
Occasionally people would cross the street between parade groups, but that was rare, and everyone knew it was bad form if not a little bit dangerous. Once in awhile a photographer would step out into the path of the marchers to get that special shot of the oncoming group but they would quickly slink back into the crowd along the sidelines acknowledging that they had “stepped out of line.”
Hemet police had 10 officers dedicated to the parade and street closures, according to Capt. Glen Brock, who said the entire event went “very well” after starting at 10 a.m. and ending about 12:30 allowing police to “demobilize” by 1 p.m.
The department had announced on its Facebook page that Florida Avenue would be shut down between Gilbert and Kirby from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Palm Avenue was closed from Florida south to Mayberry from 6 a.m. until 12 noon so participants could line up, Acacia Avenue was closed at 6 a.m. until noon for staging between Gilbert and Lyon, and Kirby was closed for six hours starting at 9 a.m. between Florida and Devonshire to allow participants to disperse after the parade.
“It was pleasantly chaotic, but everything came together extremely well,” noted one observer, who gave the organizers as well as police kudos for a seamless event.
Police reported no injuries associated with the parade itself, but officers did respond to four incidents where onlookers needed medical attention due to unrelated ailments, Brock reported. Medics patrolling the parade route on bicycles and wearing bright green vests were quick to respond to calls for help when anyone suffering health problems needed assistance.
One man next to Chile’s where this reporter was stationed suddenly started to have a seizure, and the medics were there almost instantly having taken up a position nearby. Their biggest challenge was steering their bikes through the crowd to get at the man lying on the grass next to the restaurant.
The parade this year once again had a theme, and it was in keeping with Ramona organizer Lori Van Arsdale’s passion for the Hemet play Ramona and the Ramona Bowl. The theme was “holidays from the silver screen” and one of the floats cleverly trailed bits of movie film along behind it. Van Arsdale notes that Ramona graced the silver screen a number of times in the city’s early days, and the parade was to feature posters from Ramona movies and famous movie actors who participated, such as Victor Jory. Sadly, technical problems interfered with the production of the posters Van Arsdale had planned on creating so they didn’t make it into the parade.
The cast of Ramona itself was in the parade, including Kayla Contreras, who has played Ramona for the past four years, and the new Alesandro, to be played by Eli Santana, a world-class singer and guitarist whose award-winning heavy-metal band, Holy Grail, is under contract with Prosthetic Records.
Putting on the parade each year is a huge production, but it brings a lot of joy to thousands – if not tens of thousands of people, including many youngsters – and certainly lifts everyone’s spirits at the time of year when everyone begins focusing on family. With 107 entrants this year, is anyone up for betting we may see 120 next year?