By Chelsea Royer
“The last parade we had in downtown Aberdeen was sometime in the 80s,” stated Jamie Judkins. I paused for a moment, thinking surely she was mistaken. I realized that in the last 19 years I have lived in Grays Harbor, I’d never attended nor heard of a parade being held in downtown Aberdeen.
Judkins has taken part in the Aberdeen Mayor’s Task Force, identifying problems and addressing issues such as the homeless population and damaged buildings within Aberdeen’s downtown. One aspect of the solution, they decided, was to get more feet on the ground enjoying their city. How to do this? Mayor Simpson declared July 2 as the official “Founders Day” for the City of Aberdeen. What better way to celebrate the town’s rich history than by hosting a festival?
Since last July, Judkins has been eagerly putting together a parade committee. Karen Rowe, owner of Grays Harbor Wine Sellar, not only contributes a delightful venue for meetings, but showed passion and leadership skills valuable to the event. Janet Bess, Deb Blecha, and Kim Edwards were also shoe-ins with their varying skills in marketing, vending, and enthusiasm for their city. Together, with the cooperation of the Aberdeen Revitalization Movement, these ladies have been cooking up one of the grandest shindigs Aberdeen has seen in a long time.
The first-ever Founders Day Parade will be hitting the streets of Aberdeen on June 28. With horses, bands, bicyclists, and 1450 feet of parade, Judkins envisions the event growing to be even bigger and better by next year. Multiple vendors are scheduled to keep meandering crowds shopping, exploring and eating. There will be bouncy houses for energetic kiddos, contests for the “best-dressed building,” and appearances made by Sam Benn himself (graciously re-enacted by Steven Puvogel of Driftwood Theatre).
The Founders Day Parade will primarily celebrate the life and legacy of Aberdeen Founder, Sam Benn. Descendants of Sam Benn are paying their grandfather the honor of participating in the parade as well as attending the Founders Day Dinner the night before.
The dinner is scheduled for June 27 at the Aberdeen Museum of History. With a lineup of speakers, bar, and dinner courtesy of the O’Brien’s Catering, Judkins is hoping for a fun and successful night. The chicken and beef dinner will follow happy hour and is a great opportunity to get to know the planners and grand marshals of the parade. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at the Daily World, GH Wine Sellars, and City Center Drug.
Judkins expressed that the greatest challenge has been planning an event in which neither she nor the other women on the committee have any past experience. Despite the challenges, Judkins says, “The best part has been getting to know the women and seeing the passion it (helping our community) brings out of people. I love learning about our history and finding creative ways to teach it.”
The Founders Day Parade is here to stay as an annual event if Judkins has anything to say about it. “I envision it being a lot bigger, the businesses getting involved more and decorating and getting excited for this event every year. I would love for people to come to Aberdeen just to be a part of this fun Founders Day,” says Judkins. Community response has been fantastic so far and Judkins and her crew expect next year to host even more participants.
The best part about the two-day event is that it’s not just about parades and dancing and bouncy-houses. It’s a part of a bigger plan to revitalize downtown Aberdeen to give business owners the boost they need to succeed, to turn the center of Grays Harbor into a place where people want to stop in and explore.
Judkins sees the untapped potential the city of Aberdeen holds and is working hard to draw it out. She is one of many citizens who are proud of their hometown and their roots. They are taking a tarnished gem and polishing it until it dazzles. I imagine the Founders Day Parade will be a first glimpse of the shine.