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News / Clark County News

Battle Ground band director tapped as Portland Rose Festival grand marshal

Selection is one of 'greatest moments' of Greg McKelvey’s tenured career

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 29, 2024, 2:59pm
5 Photos
Battle Ground music director Greg McKelvey, left, walks down the main hallway of Battle Ground High School as people cheer on Wednesday at Battle Ground High School. McKelvey, who&rsquo;s worked at the school since 1996, has been named grand marshal of the 2024 Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.
Battle Ground music director Greg McKelvey, left, walks down the main hallway of Battle Ground High School as people cheer on Wednesday at Battle Ground High School. McKelvey, who’s worked at the school since 1996, has been named grand marshal of the 2024 Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

BATTLE GROUND — Delegates from the Portland Rose Festival paid a surprise visit to Clark County on Wednesday morning to announce longtime Battle Ground High School band director Greg McKelvey as the 2024 Grand Floral Parade grand marshal.

McKelvey, who is set to retire at the end of this school year, said the news came as a bit of a shock.

“It just sunk in today. Before I was thinking, ‘Is this really going to happen?’ ” said McKelvey, who began his career as an educator in 1977 and has worked at Battle Ground since 1996. “This means a lot to me because, to be candid, you guys could have chosen a number of great people.”

The official presentation was preceded by a rousing performance by the school’s marching band, a group McKelvey said he’s been proud to lead and watch grow each day. McKelvey, who is Black, said in 2022 he once wondered if he’d be accepted when he took the job in the predominantly white, rural Clark County town in the 1990s.

In his time in Battle Ground, McKelvey helped develop and advise the school’s first Black Student Union. The group has since held its meetings in his band room.

Today, with retirement around the corner, McKelvey described the school as a home away from home.

“I’ve never been in this for personal rewards. My goal is to have students be successful. When (the students are successful), I’m successful,” he said. “My goal is to teach and enjoy what I do. I don’t consider it a job. I get to work with kids every day.”

The Portland Rose Festival Foundation described McKelvey as a “Rose Festival legend.” The school marches in the parade each year and is regionally renowned for its performances. Last year, McKelvey led Battle Ground’s jazz band to a first-place finish at the Kansas City Jazz Summit.

“We’ve heard (McKelvey) is retiring, so this is the perfect time to recognize him,” Rose Festival Board President Contesa Diaz-Nicolaidis said. “The Rose Festival is pleased to honor Greg as this year’s Grand Floral Parade grand marshal, with gratitude and good wishes for his decades of dedication to music education and to his students.”

Perhaps the biggest perk of serving as this year’s parade grand marshal, McKelvey said, is the opportunity to finally not have to walk the entire parade route himself.

“By the end of the parade, you’re exhausted. The older I get the more exhausting it became,” McKelvey said with a laugh. “To ride in that convertible and not have to walk — I like that.”

The Rose Festival parade won’t be his last hurrah, however. The high school band will participate in Battle Ground’s Harvest Days Parade in July.

“I really from the bottom of my heart appreciate this,” McKelvey said. “When I retire this will be one of the greatest moments of my teaching career.”

McKelvey won’t be the only Clark County representative at the parade: For the first time since 1960, Vancouver is sending down its own parade float.

Named “With Love, Vancouver,” the float is expected to be decorated with giant apples and locally farmed flowers. Vancouver’s last float submission 64 years ago won the parade’s grand sweepstakes award, according to the Clark County Historical Museum.

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