Camas Days a stroll down memory lane

Longtime residents reflect on city's changes in 40 years




In the late 1950s, Larhea Steele was a princess in Camas’ annual Grand Parade.

This year, Steele, 72, was queen of the parade. She and her husband, “King” Jerry Steele, rode in a Mustang for the procession through downtown. Coincidentally, Larhea Steele said, her first car was a Mustang.

“I was in the parade when I was in high school, and it was called the Camas Paper Festival,” she said. “The floats all had paper on them — tissue paper, toilet paper.”

The two-day festival Friday and Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of Camas Days — a reincarnation of the paper festival — in the small city of about 20,000 people.

For some of the old-timers, the annual festival was a time to reflect on how much the city has changed in the past 40 years.

“There are a lot more people in Camas than when this (festival) started,” said Dennis Gilson, 54. “Camas has tripled in size since then.”

The parade — featuring businesses, politicians seeking election and community organizations — snaked down Fourth Street between Oak and Adams streets.

As Camas High School’s band marched in the procession, Gilson noted that Jerry Steele — the king of this year’s Grand Parade — used to be the director of the band when Gilson was in high school. Steele was Gilson’s band teacher from the fifth grade to the 12th grade, Gilson said.

“We didn’t march in the parade,” Gilson said. “Then, it was just football games and concerts.”

Some things, however, haven’t changed. Camas is still a wonderful place to live and raise a family, said Larhea Steele, who was born and grew up in the city.

Family Circle’s August 2014 issue names Camas as one of the 10 best U.S. towns for families, Steele noted.

Founded in 1974, Camas Days offers the parade, a street fair, beer and wine garden, bathtub races, arts, crafts and food vendors, and kids street, which included a rock climbing wall, jump house, caterpillar crawl and slide. The festival is organized by the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the chamber’s members participate in one of the most popular events of the festival — the bathtub races.

Teams of three race the tubs through an obstacle course. The tubs have wheels attached along the sides, a steering bar and a brake. Two team members push the bathtub cart, while a third sits in the tub filled with cold water. Local firefighters fill up the tubs for each race. In between races, they raise their hoses and douse the crowds of mostly children who run into the street for the occasion.

Since the 1970s when the race began, there have been eight teams that compete. This year, iQ Credit Union was the champion bathtub racer. Team Ware and Camas Washougal Aviation Association took second place and third place, respectively.

Last year, the event drew about 12,000 people to downtown Camas over two days. A similar turnout was projected for Friday and Saturday, said Brent Erickson, who directs the festivities as part of the chamber of commerce.

Larhea and Jerry Steele were selected as queen and king of the parade based on their volunteer work in the community. The couple are officers on the board of the Camas Senior Center and also members of Moose Lodge 1042.

“I like showing off my town,” she said. “It’s bragging rights.”