Crawfish tales: Tualatin chamber names festival grand marshal

The theme of this year's Crawfish Festival is 'Those Happy Days,' celebrating the 1950s
by: Jennifer Clampet, QUEEN CRAY — After reviving the Tualatin Crawfish Festival 47 years ago, Lois Dalton, now of Tigard, will be honored by the chamber of commerce as the festival’s grand marshal.

TUALATIN - About 47 years ago, Lois Dalton personally cooked all the crawfish in her own kitchen for the city of Tualatin's now-annual festival. The crowd of about 5,000 people who attended in 1959 gobbled down at least 50 five-gallon tins of crawdads.

'Cook crawfish all summer, and smell it all winter,' joked Dalton, now 78, as she sat in the dining room of her Tigard home.

Dalton, who to this day has never actually eaten a crawfish, moved out of Tualatin in 1969. But her heart and her support have forever stayed with the small city, said her daughter Kathy Walsh.

So it seems only fitting that this year the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce should name Dalton the grand marshal for the 2006 Tualatin Crawfish Festival.

'Lois is the obvious choice; I don't know why we didn't think of her immediately,' said chamber Director Hope Howard. 'The community owes a big thank you to Lois Dalton, without her there would not be a Tualatin Crawfish Festival today.'

Dalton didn't start the festival tradition in Tualatin - the event was actually taken on by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Auxiliary from 1951 to 1955, Dalton noted.

But it was Dalton's 'revival' of the community event in 1959 that brought the festival tradition back to Tualatin. The 1959 Tualatin Crawfish Festival with thousands of festivalgoers was a huge feat, Dalton said, especially since the population of Tualatin at the time was only about 200 people.

Dalton's crawfish tale actually began with a walk. She wanted to take her Blue Birds group on a hike. Dalton said she asked around for appropriate trails and was told of a city park down by the Tualatin River.

Well, she went… 'but I never found the park,' Dalton said.

The city park was, as Dalton described it, 'just a brush pile.' It was originally 6 acres of land donated to the city by the Eastham family.

'I called a town meeting, and everybody showed up. They thought it was to discuss raising their taxes,' Dalton said.

Instead the discussion was about raising money to fix up the city park. From that first meeting in 1958, Dalton signed up 13 nonprofit organizations to help support the revival of the crawfish festival.

The festival's revival coincided with Oregon's Centennial. Dalton served as chairwoman of the Tualatin Booster Club, which produced the festival for seven years from 1959 to 1965.

In the mid-70s, she was named Queen Cray for 25 years of service in the community. Dalton was personally involved with the festival until 1978.

'Lois is one of our valuable city historians and was instrumental in the early days of the crawfish festival,' said resident Larry McClure, also a member of the Tualatin Historical Society, which nominated Dalton for the grand marshal honor.

Remembering the days when Dalton would return home to find gunnysacks full of crawfish on her front porch, she nods her head when admitting that the times and the festival have changed. The group that originally revived the event tried to keep rides and admittance free and open to everyone, Dalton said.

'The festival was different then. It was two days, 5,000 people and solely for nonprofit,' she added. 'It's not like it was.'

This year's festival will be held August 11 and 12 in the Tualatin Commons and Tualatin Community Park. The theme to this year's festival is 'Those Happy Days,' which will celebrate the 1950s when the festival first began.

'Progress isn't something we always look forward to, but it definitely produces results,' Dalton said. 'I'm just amazed that something that started so little took off into something so big.'