Rose Festival features several milestones as resurgence continues
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Brittany Holter (left) and Emily Dawson scream as they are tossed by the

Milestones abound in the 105th Rose Festival, which organizers say has seen a resurgence as Portland's preeminent celebration.

It started with the first Rock 'n' Roll Portland Half Marathon, which drew about 14,000 runners.

It continues with the 100th Grand Floral Parade, 10 a.m. Saturday, June 9, during which the famous pachyderm Packy of the Oregon Zoo serves as grand marshal. Of course, Packy won't actually be sitting atop a float rolling up Broadway. Parade-goers will see a near-life-size likeness as the Rose Festival fetes the big fella during his 50th birthday year.

And right there on the float will be 1962 Rose Festival queen Cherie Viggers Sanville, who has her own interesting story a half century after being the Queen of Rosaria.

The Royal Rosarians are celebrating 100 years of community service.

Also in the parade will be the 150th-year commemoration of rail service by Union Pacific, with a miniature train carrying the first elected Rose Festival queen, Thelma Hollingsworth, along with students from St. Agatha School.

Reed College is celebrating 100 years with a self-built entry.

Marilyn Clint, the festival's chief operating officer, marks her 25th year managing the Grand Floral Parade. She's still going strong and excited as ever about the Rose Festival, which organizers have tried to reinvigorate and reinvent somewhat.

"I've been around since I was right out of high school," Clint says. "I feel this buzz, a real energy this year.

"There will be a good turn of the weather, and the forecast is good," she adds, optimistically. "I think things are going well. These events, like the Grand Floral Parade, are as iconic as ever; people of all ages want to see them. You learn something about the community."

n The Starlight Parade, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 2, will feature Bruce and Esther Huffman and their family of the Hillside Residential Communities in McMinnville as grand marshals.

The "Happy Huffmans" became Internet sensations last August when their granddaugther posted video to YouTube called "Webcam 101 for Seniors," which received nearly 10 million hits and landed the couple on national TV shows.

"Bruce and I are so excited about the honor of being grand marshals for the Starlight Parade," Esther Huffman says. "We never dreamed we would be having so many wonderful adventures just because my granddaughter posted our video on YouTube. Being in the Starlight Parade is icing on the cake."

High Altotude, an all-girls a capella group, will accompany the Huffmans in the parade singing their favorite song, "Blue Skies."

n Clint is thrilled to have Packy as the Grand Floral Parade grand marshal.

She did some research and, in 1962, Rose Festival organizers wanted to put the newborn in a convertible as the grand marshal. It turns out that Packy's mother (Belle) and father (Thonglaw) would have had to go with him.

"They couldn't have those big elephants going down the street," she says. So, a float with Packy and his mother depicted on it was put into the parade.

And, the story also includes Viggers, from Wilson High School. She rode in the '62 parade. Then, with Packy fever rampant in the country, organizers of the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, Calif. -- part of Rose Bowl football game festivities -- asked for use of the Packy float, as well as Viggers' attendance.

A controversy erupted when the Rose Festival stepped in to not allow Viggers' participation, for whatever reason, Clint says.

So, Clint invited Viggers to ride in this year's Grand Floral Parade, and she'll be on the float with the Packy likeness.

"We decided to make it up to her," Clint says.

n There has been a major change in how people view the two parades. If not attending in person, thousands watch the events on television. Well, the media partner has changed for the Rose Festival, with KPTV/FOX 12 taking over from KGW (8). The station will broadcast the Starlight and Grand Floral parades, as well as the Junior Parade in the Hollywood District, 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 6.

n The Rock 'n' Roll Portland Half Marathon on May 20 proved to be an overwhelming success, with about 14,000 runners from 49 states and 16 countries.

The one state that didn't have representation? New Hampshire.

"We're thinking of how we can play with New Hampshire," says Rich Jarvis, Rose Festival public relations manager. "'Hey New Hampshire, Oregon's waiting for you!"

n Out-of-town visiting numbers should surely increase the economic impact of the Rose Festival. Jeff Curtis, Rose Festival chief executive officer, says an independent group will do an economic impact study after this year's festival.

He expects economic impact to be nearly $50 million.

n Retiring KOIN (6) newsman Mike Donahue is an unofficial Rose Festival historian, and it pains him to miss this year's event.

He had a seat on a float in the Grand Floral Parade open for him, but he had to regretfully decline. Upon his final day at KOIN after more than 40 years at the station on May 31, Donahue embarks on retirement the next day. He and his wife, Susan, will be visiting with friends in Washington, D.C., during the weekend of the Grand Floral Parade.

Donahue previously authored the book "Portland Rose Festival."

n The NBC hit TV show "Grimm," filmed in Portland, will be represented in the Starlight Parade.

"Grimm" is based on the Grimm fairy tales, with modern-day twists in a police procedural concept. It's a fun watch.

n Several new things will be happening at the 2012 Rose Festival.

CityFair at Waterfront Park has added a new ride. It's "MegaDrop," which takes riders on about a 130-foot plunge -- straight down. It's supposedly even more thrilling than "Vertigo" from last year. Warning: Maybe a hot dog and soda should not be consumed right before riding "MegaDrop."

A food cart festival will take place during the RoZone concerts, and the Rogue CityFair Pub will operate each day of CityFair.

A Rose Festival app and a Grand Floral Parade app both will be available at

n The Rose Festival's "renaissance" continues, Curtis says.

"It's always been a fun festival, but we must pay attention to festival events to make sure they're relevant," he says, "and respect the traditions. We felt the organization had room to freshen up the festival, and the last few years we've been very aggressive. ... Our responsibility is to keep the festival intact, and to build new traditions."

The carnival at Waterfront Park was re-named CityFair, and the RoZone stage and concert series were introduced. Events are added every year.

Curtis says the Rose Festival is "as healthy as it's been in a long time. Maybe healthier than ever. Last year, there was a 17 percent increase in sponsorship support, and it'll be up maybe 15 percent this year."

About 40 percent of the funding comes from sponsors, he adds.

Longtime supporters have hung on, and the Rose Festival has been getting large support from automobile companies -- Ford, Chrysler and Chevrolet.

n The Rose Festival has bought rain insurance in past years -- three of the past five years.

"We still do on occasion," Curtis says. "We have to do it 10 days in advance."

n The Rose Festival is annually judged against such events as the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, the Kentucky Derby Festival, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Disney World -- with judging done by the International Festival and Events Association.

The IFEA includes more than 2000 such happenings.

The 2011 Rose Festival received the "Grand Pinnacle Award."

n Other highlighted Rose Festival activities this year:

-- Starlight Run, 7:45 p.m. June 2, start/finish at Lincoln High School

-- Fleet Week, June 6-10, downtown

-- Dragon Boat Race, 8 a.m. June 9-10, Willamette River

-- Rose Cup Races, 8 a.m. June 15-17, Portland International Raceway

All event information can be found at

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