If you go
• What: Hazel Dell Parade of Bands' 50th anniversary parade, with more than 50 local and regional marching bands. Organizers are looking for alumni to join the Golden Jubilee alumni band.
• Where: The parade begins at the District 6 fire station, 8800 Hazel Dell Ave., and ends at 78th Street and Highway 99.
• When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17.
District 6 fire station
Dogs, ponies and even the occasional llama have joined the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands over its 50-year span, but nothing quite as looming as one of its first animal participants.
Dick Streissguth, 85, who's been involved in the parade since it began, still remembers what he saw with parade leader Len Gray that year.
"The guy had a pet bear in that first parade," Streissguth said. "Len Gray, he used to do stuff like that at horse shows and fairs and things.
"The bear was "relatively tame," all things considered. Or at least Gray, who was an animal trainer, was able to keep the creature from eating any of the other participants, Streissguth said.
Streissguth started with Fire District 6 as a volunteer in 1954 and was fire chief from 1977 to 1994. His family's collection of antique fire engines appears in the parade each year.
In its early years, the event was smaller and included a variety of entrants such as American Indian dancers, floats and even one creepy-looking unicycle-riding clown.
Now bands come from all over the region, marching with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, classic cars and community groups.
"It grew from kids pulling wagons to large floats and lots of bands," Streissguth said. "There are about 29 bands this year, which is substantial. It's great because a lot of the middle schools and high schools don't have a lot of opportunities to participate in stuff like this."
In 1964, nine bands signed up to play to a crowd of about 8,000 at the first Hazel Dell Parade of Bands.
The six high schools that participated in the original event (there were also three junior high schools) have also signed up to be in the 50th anniversary event. They are: Battle Ground, Camas, Columbia River, Evergreen, Fort Vancouver and Hudson's Bay high schools.
Also playing this year will be the Golden Jubilee Band, made up of band members that marched in the parade throughout its history.
"I've seen a couple little spots of theirs on Facebook, and they look good," said Shelly Palmer, co-chair of the parade. "The drum line especially looks great."
The original event was put together by the "99 Strip" men's business association, which later became the Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek Business Association.
The Columbian called the first event an "overwhelming success."
"More than the scheduled number of Indians showed up for the parade, but two fewer bands (two of the junior high schools) took part than were originally planned," the May 25, 1964, story said.
About 1,500 people marched in the event that year, according to the story.
The parade started because local schools didn't have many places for their marching bands to play, and so the business association decided to help the kids out, said Sarah Mitchelson, public education coordinator at Clark County Fire District 6.
"They had kids who practiced in marching bands — they practiced and practiced — but they didn't have a parade to march in," Mitchelson said. "And at the time, the Rose Festival wasn't taking groups from out of state. So the dads decided to put on their own parade here."
And the parade has continued to grow every year since it was founded.
The 1965 event, on May 22, also had nine bands, with 500 musicians, 1,402 participants and 15,500 spectators — almost twice as many as the first year — according to a May 24, 1965, story in The Columbian.
The high school bands that year were Battle Ground, Camas, Columbia River, Evergreen and Ridgefield (with four junior high schools), and Len Gray was once again the grand marshal.
That year, the "Dairy Princess Court" also appeared, comprised of seven girls vying for the Clark County Dairy Princess title.
The 1966 event, on May 21, had 11 bands, with more than 1,000 musicians marching and 1,750 participants.
The grand marshals were Lt. Gov. John L. Cherberg, the ubiquitous Len Gray and Ramblin' Rod Anders, a Portland television personality.The Columbia River High School basketball team also marched that year to celebrate winning the Southwest Washington district basketball championship.
That year the parade, "which continued considerably longer than an hour," really started to take off, and it was "almost impossible to estimate the number of people who crowded on Hazel Dell parking lots, streets and curbs," according to a May 23, 1966, story about the event.
This year, organizers are expecting at least 25,000 spectators. There were about 2,000 participants signed up as of May 9, Palmer said.