No rain on their parade

By on September 21, 2011

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

Betsy and Randy Leinbach are shown in front of a blast from the past in the Ephrata Fair parade, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. This year the Hershey Kissmobile will be making its debut in the grand event. (Review file photo)Betsy and Randy Leinbach are shown in front of a blast from the past in the Ephrata Fair parade, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. This year the Hershey Kissmobile will be making its debut in the grand event. (Review file photo)

As the Wednesday of fair week arrives each year, folded chairs and ropes can be seen lining the sidewalks of Ephrata.

Hours later those same sidewalks become filled with spectators anxious to hear the sounds of the drums and horns and the chatter and laughter of youngsters as they rush out to fill their bags with candy tossed in the air.

In its 78th year, the Ephrata Fair Parade has been a standing tradition for anyone that has lived in the area; a tradition that for some entrants has become part of the past.

Though still immensely popular, over the years, participation in the parade has declined. Some of the bands and floats, even after being involved for years, have made the decision not to continue — some for economic reasons, and others due to lack of volunteers and time.

For Randy and Betsy Leinbach, parade co-chairs, the choice is clear. The retired couple, who have been leading the event for 17 years, have made it their year-round commitment to keep the parade going strong.

The two recall hearing of a time (before they were involved) when there were twice as many musical groups than there are today: 20 high school bands and 20 drum and bugle corps, back in the post World War II 1940s.

"Sunday schools had their own bands, all the clubs like the Legions… and the town had a band," said Betsy. "All that is gone now."

When talking to present time band directors, Randy remembers when his own children were younger and huge bands of about 180 students would march in the parades back in the 1980s. Blocks would be sold to each school and band parents lined the sides of the streets to watch the bands march by. At the judges stand an honor band (winner from the year prior) would perform a special show. This was stopped years ago because people didn’t want to stay once the parade was over.

"A lot of school bands don’t do parades anymore," said Randy. Although the Ephrata Fair pays for transportation, some directors still choose not to participate. Ephrata and neighboring school districts Cocalico and Garden Spot do still have bands attending, but some others say the parade is too long and has too many hills. Some band directors express that budget cuts have been made on equipment, supplies or extra people to help with the band.

The total number of participating units is 120, down about 10 from last year. Some of those were politicians who rode in the event because of elections in 2010. In the case of floats, it’s not only money, but time.

"People just don’t have time anymore," said Randy. "It’s something you can’t do in two days’ time."

Randy said that to save time, many participating businesses have made the shift from hand made to professional made floats. However, this involves increased costs, making it hard for non-profit groups such as churches and scouts to do the same.

"At one point we had 10 to 12 churches and four or five scout floats; now we have one of each," said Randy.

Dave Smith, associate pastor of Dove Westgate Church, said that despite the hard work and expenses involved, his congregation feels it’s important to continue to participate as a way to share what they do as a church. The parade also helps promote the church’s harvest festival, which gives children a different perspective of fall in addition to the usual Halloween festivities.

"The time is what it is," said Smith. "If you want to do it you have to put the time in. We want to be a part of the community."

Smith shared that a church member pulls the float with their truck and donations for supplies needed are secured from the community.

A volunteer for Dove’s harvest festival, Sue Moyer, is one of about 20 to 25 people helping out with the church’s float this year.

"From a business aspect sometimes budgets get tight and the float in the parade gets cut out," said Moyer. "I would say from a church standpoint, the goal would be more to reach people."

There are some businesses that continue to make their own floats despite the cost and time involved. Dan Fineberg, vice president of the Flower and Craft Warehouse, looks at the parade as one of the best times throughout the year to interact with the local community and has no plans of stopping it. He sees that multitude of spectators on parade night and knows it’s well worth it.

"We see it as a really fun opportunity," said Fineberg. "As a business we are thankful for the local communities that have been supporting us for 20 years."

Fineberg said he handles the issue of time and money by clearing out space in the schedules of his floral designers for a few days to work on the float.

"It’s a really good chance for some of our staff to work on something different than what they do on a daily basis," said Fineberg. "The cost is the least important factor."

The Leinbachs started their involvement with the Ephrata Fair back in 1972 showing chickens with their children. They’ve had an array of duties, from helping the judges, taking care of the livestock, to Betsy currently running the fair office.

Randy, a retiree of Barry’s Paint Shop, and Betsy, a homemaker, said that although the tradition is important, it’s hard to keep. The way they keep the parade going strong despite changes in participation is by always looking for more interesting things to add to the event.

"I think in a way, as our grandchildren like to say, parades got to be ‘lame.’ It’s all gone by the wayside with electronics," said Betsy. "Our grandchildren have been around the world already and they’re only in their teens and 20s."

In light of the world being different than it used to be, the Leinbachs have consistently been making sure they keep up with the changes. Randy is a Shriner that participates in a lot of parades. The Leinbachs have the distinction of being the ones who initiated the presence of string bands and the steam calliope in the local parades.

"We just keep finding out who can be in the parade," said Randy, adding that over the years they’ve featured a bicycle with about or eight or nine people on it in a row, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and this year, the Hershey Kissmobile.

In order to keep things running smoothly the couple has managed to secure some good friends as volunteers that help them every year with the lineup at the high school in preparation for the trek down Oak Street throught town, up Park Avenue and Locust Street, past the judges stand and then down Fulton Street.

A thunderstorm mid-way through the parade last year caused guests to rush to their cars and the participants to disband. However, Randy and Betsy believe that in the grand scheme of things, there will be no dispersement, no disbanding of the parade. They feel although it’s been challenged at times, the tradition is here to stay. More PARADE, page A15

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