By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – When Grand Marshal Doris Cox leads the annual Christmas Parade down Main Street this Saturday at 1 p.m., she’ll be part of a holiday tradition that goes back at least 60 years.
The Tri-Lakes Fairground Association, sponsor of the parade, selected Cox for the honor. She is a former city clerk who served under Mayors Watson Hunt, Garlon Maynor, Hamric Henry and Larry Hart.
“Through the years she has helped many people and touched many lives with her actions,” said Parade Chairman J. C. Womble. “For her many years of service and dedication to the City of Water Valley and the surrounding community, we are proud to honor Mrs. Cox as the Grand Marshal.”
Womble said that most of the entries from last year are returning and many newcomers have been added to this year’s parade lineup. Among the new entries are the Yes Virginias Band, the Highways and Hedges Church and the Girls Scouts.
“The latest news update is that Santa and Mrs. Claus will be flying in from the North Pole to be in the Christmas Parade,” Womble added,
The Tri-Lakes Fairground Association will have a concession stand next to the bandstand offering grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, cold drinks and hot chocolate. Food will be available starting at 11 a.m.
There is still time to have an entry in the parade, according to Womble. Anyone who would like to participate is urged to contact the Parade Chairman at 473-3190 or Bobby Murphree at 473-2501.
There was some sort of Christmas parade in Water Valley as early as the late 1920’s or 30’s. A photograph of former Alderman and Mayor Tom Myers shows him sitting beside Santa Claus in an early automobile that had been decorated for the holidays. After that, there is no indication of a parade during the late 1930’s and through the 40’s.
The next time a parade is mentioned is in the Dec. 10, 1953 Herald. The story noted that many people are expected attend the Wednesday, Dec. 16, parade and the activities following.
The day’s events began at 5 p.m. and featured “Old Saint Nick pulling the reins over his chargers as they pranced down the street resplendent in their bright red harness with shiny, brass nameplates.”
In both 1953 and 1954, Santa brought his real reindeer, Donner, Blitzen, Dancer, Prancer, and Rudolph, to Water Valley with the help of the Jaycees. Apparently they had moved from the North Pole to Santa Village in Skyforest, Calif. before making their trip to Mississippi.
After the 1953 parade a community prayer service was held at 7:30 and the choir from Davidson High School sang beginning at 8:15.
By 1960, the event had grown to 17 floats and nine marching units including the Northwest Junior College Band and the local Tonette Club. Among the floats were the Navy unit from Greenwood and the American Legion float from Greenville.
The Sportsmen’s Club float featured a giant size crappie representing the worlds record fish along with local fisherwoman Lottie Johnsey.
All children were invited to visit with Santa after the parade at the bandstand that had been decorated with a large pipe organ and stained glass windows flanked by choirboys.
The parades continued through the soaring sixties until they abruptly ended in 1968. But, the tradition returned with a bang in 1972 when Santa rode into town Dec. 4 on a National Guard 155mm self-propelled howitzer.
A photo on the front of the Dec. 7 Herald showed a crowd estimated at over 2000 at the bandstand for the conclusion of the parade and the Jaycee sponsored “Wonderful World of Christmas” event.
In the same issue, City Policeman Bennie Appleton was pictured perched atop a Beat Three front-end loader so as to get a better view of the parade and crowd.
The on-and-off continued and the last parade of the 70’s was in 1978. But, you can’t keep Santa out of town and ol’ Saint Nick returned in 1981 riding down Main Street on a float that had him waving to the crowd from the chimney of a house.
That year several floats received awards including most original which was won by Yalobusha General Hospital with a load of Muppet characters. Friendship Baptist Church won first place in the religious category for their nativity scene.
In 1985, Ludie and Bennie Appleton were Grand Marshals of the Monday, Dec. 9, event that began at 6 p.m. Co-hosts were Jerry Holloway and Curtis Berry.
One of the 50 entries was a blue 1965 Olds convertible driven by Helen Leipstorff. Riding with her were Nell Gholson, Shirley Hall, and Coffeevillian Margie Kilgore, who carried a sign reading “Widow Valley.”
The parade theme was “Christmas in Disneyland” and several of the floats featured Disney characters including the Holley (BorgWarner) 382 train with Joe Smith as Donald Duck, Sheilia Barley as Minnie Mouse, and Tommy Latham as Goofy. Engineer for the float, which represented the Casey Jones engine, was Personnel Manager Everett Taylor.
There was a second Minnie Mouse in the parade; Tammie Burgess led the WVHS Band dressed as Mickey’s favorite girl in a polka dot frock.
The 1990 parade theme was “Christmas Downtown” and Mickey Aldy was host. A picture on the front of the Dec. 27 Herald showed Aldy greeting Coach Terry Allen, who had just been named Clarion Ledger Coach of the Year.
The event began with introduction of the State 3-A Champion WVHS Blue Devil team and included entertainment by the Water Valley Cloggers, Deborah Kay’s School of Dance, and the Hamilton Baton Twirlers.
Water Valley’s Miss Hospitality Raina Degler, Miss Yalobusha County Jackie Talliaferro, and the Watermelon Royalty were introduced.
In 1995, Corrine and Aubrey Trusty served as Grand Marshals for the Dec. 4 parade that began at 7 p.m. The First Baptist Church Hand Bell Choir, under the direction of Bro. Keith Stevens, performed beforehand.
Some of the float riders included Homecoming Queen Delita Hawkins, Senior Maids Candi Harris, Lacey Dickey, and Sophia Phillips. The WVHS Cheerleaders rode on the Fire Departments newest truck, a 1989 KME.
“Home For Christmas” was the theme for the 2000 parade held Monday night, Dec. 4, with Fred Eakes as Master of Ceremonies.
Parade Marshals Jo and Binnie Turnage rode with Linda Shuffield in her brother Charlie’s red convertible. Not far behind was Watermelon Queen Tanya Odom.
A number of cars were featured including Robert Walker’s “Sweet Revenge” and Jerry Hill’s 1925 canary yellow T-model Ford driven by Bennett Hill. Nine-month-old Hannah Rose Higdon was all smiles as she rode in her first parade held by her Mom, Margaret Hill Higdon.
Santa was once again perched in a chimney as he made the trip down Main Street in a float sponsored by George’s Garage.
In 2005, Zandra and Joe Walker were Parade Marshals for the Saturday, Dec. 3 event. Miss Casey Jones Steffi River represented the Valley’s railroad heritage.
Santa and Mrs. Claus got to sit this one out as they rode down Main seated comfortably in chairs on the Toy Store float. Some of Santa’s helpers, The Dreamriders, rode in the parade and then went to Reedy Acres to give Christmas presents to the children.
One of the new features of the parade was the collection of fire trucks from all over the county led by the Water Valley Fire Department units.
Herald columnist Myrle Cox probably said it best in 1954 when she wrote about the parade and holiday decorations in Water Valley: “Wouldn’t it be nice to stay young always – just so Christmas would always mean pure, joyful pleasure.”