Let’s try this again

By on September 18, 2019

One year after only the second rainout in parade history, the 85th edition will again aim for something extra special

Looking at the big picture, Randy and Betsy Leinbach said it was an easy decision.

They knew canceling the 100th Ephrata parade last year, though unpopular, was a short-term loss with a long-term gain.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” said Betsy, who along with her husband are co-chairs for the parade. “We knew a bad storm was coming the next day. So we made the decision Tuesday, way before the 7 p.m. Wednesday parade. Everything would have been ruined by the rain.”

Parade day is usually iffy and normally cloudy, Betsy said, but this was the first time the event was canceled since they have been chairs, and only the second time in its 84-year history. She and

Randy have been involved with the fair for 47 years — both serve on the Ephrata Farmers Day Association board of directors — and 27 years with the parade.

By canceling early, the Leinbachs saved the fair money. No funds were spent for transportation for bands or performers.

“Once the performers are here, we have to pay them,” Betsy said. “I don’t think the sponsors would like that.”

And the parade can not be rescheduled later in the week because of conflicts.

The $38,000 allotted for entertainment for last year’s event was carried over to this year.

A portion of this money came from a $10,000 grant obtained by Ephrata Borough for the centennial celebration.

The Philadelphia Mummers and string bands will once again be a highlight of the 85th annual Ephrata Fair parade, set for Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“We want to replicate last year’s parade this year,” said Betsy. “A few people (groups) can’t make it, but the big groups are coming.”

Big groups like Liberty, a 360-plus member high school band, which has played for the Queen of England, and at the Rose Bowl Parade. Members of the bag pipe band have played with the rock group the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Bethlehem, the school’s hometown.

They are coming in five chartered buses, and will perform near the beginning of the parade, likely the third band (the order is not set yet). The Leinbachs said they will play for 3 to 5 minutes at the judges stand.

Other notable big acts coming include Kutztown and Lincoln universities.

The color guard and big flag, two staples for the Ephrata parade, will kick off the event. The first musical group is Ceoln Neanh, a bagpipe band from York.

“We have them because (Ephata Police) Chief (Bill) Harvey is Southern Irish and he likes bag pipes, “ Betsy said.

There will be 23 musical units, including “Knock On Drum,” a Rock-n-Roll band that plays on the back of a flat bed truck. There are also three string or Mummers bands, including South Philly, Greater Kensington and Fralinger.

“Watch for Fralinger,” Randy said. “Their costumes will knock your socks off.”

Local high school bands performing include Cocalico, Ephrata, Manheim Township, Garden Spot, Conrad Weiser and Octorara.

Soon this will be the scene along Ephrata streets, as enthusiastic parade watchers secure a spot for next Wednesday’s big event. A reminder that chairs should not be put out before Sunday at noon.

The Turkey Hill cow will make an appearance. Also scheduled to appear are two Philadelphia favorites in the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot for the Phillies baseball team, and the official pep band for the Eagles football team.

“People don’t realize they are the official Eagles band,” Betsy said. “Last year we told them to wear their Super Bowl rings.”
Randy said that there are fewer floats the last few years, noting there are less volunteers helping. You will see more trucks with banners. “That’s the way all parades are going,” he said.

“It is difficult to get bands; they don’t travel and don’t have many members,” Betsy said, adding that a lot of band directors do not like Ephrata’s parade route because it is a three-mile route with hills.

The Leinbachs said they sent invites to Millersville University and Lebanon Valley College and neither school responded.

Besides inviting performers and logistics, Randy handles the emailing. He sends a letter to each group that includes a map for shelter, in case there is bad weather. He includes rules like no smoking, alcohol and no throwing candy. They send a list of volunteers to Ephrata High school for security and coordinate with fire stations, police and first aid.

The duo also writes a parade script for the Blue Ridge TV announcers, Tim Reedy and Casey Allyn, with highlights and information they can use during the parade.

After the parade is over, the work still isn’t done for the Leinbach family. They go to the judges stand and get results, hand out trophies and ribbons. Check writing, prize distribution and computer work goes on until about Monday after the fair.

Then they take a little breather and start it all over again It is a true labor of love.

“My husband always lived in Ephrata and has always gone to the fair. I moved here a long time ago,” Betsy said. “We just kinda enjoy doing it. We’ll do it as long as we can.”

They started helping with the fair at age 30 with three small children. Now they are now both 77. One daughter and son-in-law help and one grandson assists parking buses.

They’ll be helping this year and hoping the weather is good, avoiding another historic cancellation.

“Let’s just hope the weather is good and last year carries over to this year for the biggest parade in fair history,” Betsy Leinbach said. “Let’s hope so.”

Eric Stark is a correspondent with The Ephrata Review.

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