Charlie Duncan can’t recall the last time he saw a Whiteville parade from the side of the street. He always sees the floats and bands from behind as he sends them on their way from their staging area at Whiteville High School.
“I used to watch Charlie Langston run the Christmas parades back when the Lions Club sponsored them,” Duncan said. “I’d think to myself, ‘I’d like to do that.’ Then in the 70s or 80s when the Jaycees finally took over the Christmas parade, I got to do it.”
Duncan worked in his father’s business until the 80s, then joined the Scott Plumbing and Electrical Supply Company that is now Cregger. “We recently added heating and air,” he said.
Although he is 65 years old, Duncan enjoys his job too much to retire. And he feels the same way about his volunteer parade work.
“This is a very simple parade”
Sometime after the Jaycees disbanded – Duncan can’t say which year exactly – the planning committee for the up-and-coming Pecan Harvest Festival recruited him to organize their parade.
But “organization” is not the word Duncan uses in describing his methods. “Organic” might fit better. He simply puts out the message that all comers are welcome and somehow, year after year, the makings for a parade appear: princesses and politicians, candidates and clowns, churches and charities, businesses and bands.
“Except for the princesses, there’s no charge to enter. I don’t want to deal with the paperwork.”
They line up on Lee Street. “I put the princesses on the left of the street and everybody else on the right. I tell the emergency services people to stay at the back because they’re going to be last.”
Then Duncan works his magic. Without an Excel spreadsheet or so much as a scribbly legal pad list to go by, he pulls his performers out of their waiting places and sends first one unit, then another, on their way.
“I send out the police first, then the ROTC, then the Grand Marshal. Then I alternate different kinds of units going out: some princesses, then something different; I keep the bands separate from each other. The Queen goes out last.”
As soon as Duncan sends out the final parade units, he hops into his golf cart and drives downtown to meet the parade. “I have to carry the Queen to the reviewing stand. Then I can breathe,” said Duncan.
Duncan says the planning committee follows a somewhat informal, but heartfelt, process for selecting the parade’s Grand Marshal each year.
For instance, this year’s honoree, Vic Ward, “is a native, and his rank in the Highway Patrol just got so high we wanted to do something. We just keep our ears and eyes open and somebody comes to our attention.”
Ward responded to the invitation by feeling very humbled and uncertain that he was important enough to take the role of marshal, but he realized it was a chance to show love for his hometown.
“His attitude is typical,” Duncan said. “Most feel humbled. I think we’ve never made a bad choice. They’re grateful for the opportunity, and the people who watch the parade are grateful about the people we choose as marshals.
We’ve made a lot of good choices.” Ward will bring two vintage cars to the parade, and some of his fellow officers in the Highway Patrol will probably make a special effort to attend because of his spotlight role this year, said Duncan.
Weather or not
One feature of the parade that no one has much choice about is the weather. But Duncan has never called off a parade on account of rain or cold. “We freeze to death at 5:30 in the morning when (the organizers) are setting up,” he said, but by the time the parade participants line up the temperature is usually all right.
The worst weather Duncan can recall was just a few years ago; the parade went well, but “as soon as the parade was over, it started to rain.” It was such driving, cold, miserable rain that “most people went home. There were just a few stragglers downtown.”
Duncan recalls that very few participants had shown up for the car show that year because the forecast was so unfavorable. “People with expensive cars don’t want to bring them out on a day like that.”
Fortunately, this year’s forecast looks pleasant, with clear skies and seasonable fall temperatures.
Duncan has advice for prospective parade participants as well as for curbside watchers. “It’s fine to throw candy if you can throw. Don’t just drop it in the middle of the street. You need a good arm to get it out to the crowd.” And if you are a candycatcher, Duncan warns, you and your children ought to stay out of the middle of the street “until after the parade is over.”
The best thing about the Pecan Harvest Festival parade, said Duncan is that “It’s free except for the princesses. It costs nothing to get your civic group or store in the parade, so it’s free advertising. It’s crazy not to be in the parade.”
Duncan’s phone number is 642-5004, and he is happy to answer questions. The website, www.ncpecanfestival.com, has additional information and parade registration forms.
With or without paperwork, however, Duncan will be very happy if a lot of enthusiastic people “just show up at the high school” and his organic methods once again transform them into a parade.