Hazel Dell tradition marches on

Multiple generations of some families have taken part in parade of bands

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter


photoTony Ruestig

If you go

• What: Hazel Dell Parade of Bands. 48th annual parade with at least 27 local school bands and about 145 other participating groups.

• Where: The parade begins at the District 6 fire station at 8800 Hazel Dell Ave. and ends at 78th Street and Highway 99. See http://bit.ly/J1rg8Z for map.

• When: 10:30 a.m. May 19.

• Information: Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek Business Association or Clark County Fire District 6.

Tony Ruestig finds the “Remember When” theme personally appropriate for this year’s 48th annual Hazel Dell Parade of Bands.

Ruestig, who’s working on a float for Twin Star Credit Union, said he remembers when he marched in the parade in 1976 and 1977 as a student at Jason Lee Middle School in Hazel Dell.

“I played the saxophone, and the saxophones were right up front,” Ruestig said. “There was no room for mistakes.”

Ruestig also remembers when -- a few decades later -- he got to watch his son, Joshua, march in the parade for Skyview High School.

“My father watched me, and I saw my son,” Ruestig said. “It’s a generational thing and a real community event. There are a lot of people who could have participated when they were in school that are now watching their grandkids in it.”

The parade was first launched after area schools approached local businesses looking for an opportunity for school band kids to march in something besides football games, said Brad Lothspeich, co-chairman of the event.

“At the time, we had marching bands but no parades to march in, and this is still pretty much the only parade they can be in around this area,” Lothspeich said. “We wanted to create the parade for the kids to have something to do near the end of the school year.”

In 1964, the first parade launched with about 12 local bands and 60 other entries. By the 1980s, it had grown to about 20 local bands and 120 entries. And today, it has about 27 bands and 145 entries, he said.

“If it gets much bigger, I don’t know where we’re going to put everybody,” Lothspeich said. “It just keeps getting better and better. It’s not the Rose Parade, of course, but it’s the biggest parade in Southwest Washington.”

About 5,000 people are in the parade and around 20,000 show up to watch each year, if the weather is nice. The event costs about $14,000 to put together, through money donated by local sponsors, Lothspeich said.

This year, the parade is honoring its Hazel Dell sponsors by having three local business owners act as grand marshals: Mike Collins, Roy Sonney and Bob Kuzma.

“They’ve hung on through the good times and the bad, and we felt it was a good time to honor them,” Lothspeich said.

Besides the bands and music, visitors will also see horses, pets, clowns, fire engines and floats. And before the event, when the parade section of Highway 99 closes to traffic, children are encouraged to make chalk drawings along the street.

“We might create a contest for that in the future, although not this year,” Lothspeich said. “There’s usually a lot of artwork in the street. It’s great.”

Ruestig and his co-workers at Twin Star Credit Union have been working on the idea for their float since January. The company’s Hazel Dell office has a friendly competition with the Clark Regional Wastewater District each year to see who can come up with the best display, he said.

“A lot of it we put together after work and on weekends,” Ruestig said. “It’s fun to see how it all comes out. Of course, the winner gets bragging rights.”

One day, Ruestig would like to see future generations of his family in the parade, he said.

“If my son has children, they’ll probably be in the parade, too,” he said. “It’s a tradition for so many families.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo or sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.