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Friday, April 4, 2014

Sundown Parade, fireworks kick off 2012 Wichita River Festival

By Fred Mann
The Wichita Eagle

If you missed the Sundown Parade:

The sun was still up, and it finally came out.

There were trolleys and jet boats, stagecoaches and Corvettes.

There was a Windwagon and a Waterwagon, tumblers and roller skaters, a mayor and some county commissioners.

There was the nose of a B-52 bomber on one trailer, and the tail of a refueling plane from McConnell Air Force Base on another.

And there were thousands of spectators, who started arriving 90 minutes early to get a good spot for the kickoff event of the nine-day Wichita River Festival.

Even before the parade began, Bill Tomb enjoyed himself by dancing to a song blaring over the loudspeakers.

Tomb was making his first visit to the parade. Dancing is why he came, he said.

“Few people see it, but I can dance crazy as much as I want here,” Tomb said. “From Elvis right on up to today’s music.”

Tomb, who said he received a diploma in square dancing in his native Florida, said he enjoys keeping active by dancing at various parades.

“Age is nothing, if you keep your spirits up and dance like it’s 1999,” he said.

Few others in the crowd danced. They sat in folding chairs and on benches, leaned against buildings and looked down from upper levels of parking lots.

They ate cotton candy and corn dogs. They took photos of floats and of each other.

Parents hollered at their kids to “wave!” and tried to keep then under control as clowns, unicyclists, Chinese dragons and Shriners in funny cars swarmed the streets in front of them.

The sky remained clear, even though rain had threatened earlier in the day. The Koch Twilight Pops Concert, originally scheduled for the Westbank Concert Stage, was moved inside Century II at the request of the Wichita Symphony during a rainy afternoon. Symphony members worried that rain could damage their instruments and sound equipment. Music from the concert was piped through outdoor speakers so the crowds waiting for the fireworks could hear it.

The parade featured about 80 entrants.

There was an inflatable airplane from Spirit AeroSystems and an inflatable airplane from EADS.

There were party trucks, party floats and party buses.

A roller derby team rolled by.

Music ranged from country western to Sousa marches to Christian rock.

As the floats rolled by, children’s eyes widened. Parents said they enjoy going to the parade because it gives them a chance to go out as a family

“It’s really something for the kids to do,” Joey Parnell said.

Police motorcyclists gave high fives to kids who reached out to them.

“My favorite part was definitely the motorcycles, because they’re so loud,” Joseph Skinner said.

Skinner’s sister, Anna, was more impressed with other parts of the parade.

“I really like all the sailors and the Army guys,” Anna said.

Sarah DeRome and Garrett Queens, who had come from El Dorado, also liked the military personnel who marched past them.

“They go over there and have to do some crazy things” said Queens, 20. “It’s amazing to see them fighting for their freedom and then come home and get this recognition..”

On the parade went:

The Get a Move On moving company featured employees pushing cardboard packing boxes down the street on dollies. There were characters from “Star Wars.”

There were fire trucks from the city, fire trucks from the county.

Dan Wilson and Marjean Sparks stood across from City Hall on Main Street holding a “Happy Birthday” sign with a photo of Wilson’s daughter, Mandy, on it. Mandy is a cadet with the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department. She turned 17 on Friday and was in the parade.

Sparks, a lifelong Wichita resident, was making her first visit to the parade. She doesn’t like crowds.

She found out it wasn’t so bad.

“This is cool. I’m glad I came,” she said.

While many spectators said they enjoyed the event, at least one longtime festival goer said the parade could have been better.

“It was all right,” Clarence Nickelson said. “I’ve been here other years when they were better.”

Rick and Lori Phelps of Wellington watched near the corner of Main and Third Street. They attend the parade as a family tradition.

Rick told Lori after it was over that they ought to turn their chairs around to watch the crowd depart.

“That’s when the real parade begins,” he told her.

Contributing: Matt Riedl of The Eagle

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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