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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Parade is event's biggest draw

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Theresa Eftink and Sheila Keene, members of Old Broads Plus One, work on their "Playground in our Minds" float.
PORTAGEVILLE -- The annual Soybean Festival in Portageville will be celebrated for the 60th year beginning Saturday. And the biggest draw now is the same as it was back in 1948: the parade.

"I've seen a lot of other parades, but usually our parade is the biggest parade in Southeast Missouri," said Don Hawkins. "We still have thousands of people that come and line up on Main Street to watch it."

He has attended the Soybean Festival most every year since its beginning and also helped build several floats that participated in the parade down Main Street. This year's parade is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 27.

Arzine French, a historian who has collected articles and taken pictures at the event, agreed the two parades -- the grand float parade and the kiddie parade -- are the biggest draw

"Back in the '50s, the floats were very, very elaborate and there were entries from Memphis and everywhere," French said.

Although there are still a lot of floats and bands that participate in the big parade now, they mostly come from towns in Southeast Missouri. There are fewer floats, which are less elaborate.

"We always had movement," said Joanne Sisson, who helps build floats for the Beta Sigma Phi sorority to which she belonged."But people don't seem to have the time to do that anymore."

Sisson recalled building a Mother Goose-themed float with wings that moved up and down and one with a moving carousel.

Hawkins helped build several floats with the moving parts. Although he is no longer involved, he speculated that they are no longer made because of the expense involved.

Sisson, who is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors, the Soybean Festival, was in charge of the parade for several years. The number of entries has also dropped as time has gone by. "Back then, there were a lot more floats because there were a whole lot more service organizations," she said.

But it is still quite big. "The kiddie parade is a big deal," Sisson said. "I think in the past few years, our kiddie parade has had some very elaborate floats in it."

The kiddie parade, which is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, has mini and maxi floats, distinguished by whether or not the riding implement is decorated. All the floats must be pulled by a four-wheeler or riding lawn mower; no full-sized trucks are allowed.

"We made our red wagon into a covered wagon and all kinds of things," Sisson recalled. And children are the focus of the parades, whether the grand float or kiddie ones. "The whole point of putting a float together is to get your children involved and put them on the float," she said.

And building can be quite a bit of work, as well as secretive, with the large cash prizes up for grabs.

"If you push to get everything done, you can be working until midnight sometimes," Hawkins said. "There's several hours in building a float, depending on what kind of float it is and how complicated it is."

Another big draw with the parade is the fleet of junior high and high school bands that come to march and compete.

Ronnie Adams, the police chief in Portageville, has gone to the festival since he was 6, minus a few years that he missed. Four generations of his family have gone.

"Back when I was a kid, I couldn't wait for it," he said. But now that he works it, he looks forward to the end of the festival, too. "It's a long week," he said.

Other than the parade, he does look forward to the Main Street Madness held Sept. 29. "People bring in booths and sell stuff," he said. There are also motorcycles on display and an antique car show, he said. "It's kind of neat."

The pageants also get extra people involved in the festivities. In its beginning, the franchise for the Miss Missouri pageant was at the Soybean Festival, Hawkins pointed out. But when pageant organizers wanted it to grow after the first few years, the town turned over the franchise.

Many things have changed with the festival over the years -- some for the better and some for the worse. One of the best changes, however, was moving the festival from the last weekend of August to the last weekend of September, Sisson said.

"It was so hot, you could barely catch your breath," she said.

Even so, the weeklong festival remains a time for fun and to catch up with old acquaintances and have a good time. And, as Hawkins said, it can only continue to grow, with more younger people getting involved.