Jan. 30, 2021 — The Florence Area Chamber of Commerce is proceeding with plans for its 114th Rhododendron Festival with the theme “Rhody Wonderland.” The event is scheduled on its traditional date, the third weekend of May, May 13 to 16.
A contract is in place for the Davis Shows NW Family Carnival and contingencies are being made for the rhododendron show, parades, car cruises and vendor fair.
But the one element that brings the most pomp and ceremony to the annual event is the naming of the Rhododendron Court and crowning of Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast.
“We are unable to safely conduct our ceremonial duties with the court. It’s a sad result of the pandemic,” said Chamber President/CEO Bettina Hannigan. “These young people bring so much class and hard work to the event and are such valuable ambassadors for Florence. It’s such a shame to lose this joyful tradition this year.”
Members of the court traditionally sell commemorative pins to raise awareness of the event as well as funds for scholarships. Their coronation at the Florence Event Center on Wednesday evening of Rhody Week has traditionally been the official start of the festival.
Last year’s Rhody Days, though officially cancelled for the first time since WWII, did feature a virtual parade coordinated by the chamber and the City of Florence with short videos submitted by the public and edited for use on social media. Local rhododendron expert, and Chamber Ambassador, Mike Bones took it upon himself last year to roll a wheelbarrow packed with rhododendrons along the traditional parade route in lieu of the official Sunday grand floral parade.
According to Hannigan, “The Rhododendron Festival makes the single largest economic impact on Florence’s tourist-driven economy and serves as the kick-off to the tourism season. Around 1,900 people in Florence rely on tourism-based employment, and tourism pumps about $147 million into our community each year.”
Because so much has changed so quickly with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannigan said the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce is doing as much as possible to thoughtfully and carefully restore the big event.
“We are doing all we can to safely advance the cause of commerce during the pandemic to make Florence the best place to live, work, shop, eat, play and stay — now, and as the crisis passes,” Hannigan said. “Rhody Fest is crucial for that.”
As of Jan. 29, Lane County is still considered in the State of Oregon’s “extreme risk” category, as detailed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
“We must be vigilant in adhering to Governor Brown’s edicts,” Hannigan said. “A healthy, vibrant community is essential for everyone’s success. As a chamber of commerce, and as a community at large, our top priority should be preventing further spread of COVID-19 and taking care of each other with compassion, humility and encouragement. We cannot wait to welcome visitors back to fully enjoy all that Oregon’s Coastal Playground has to offer as soon as restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so.”
The Florence Rhododendron Festival is Oregon’s second-oldest floral festival, next to the Portland Rose Festival. It sees thousands of visitors from around the state, nation and even the world. In addition, generations of families have enjoyed the annual Florence Rhododendron Festival by attending the Davis Shows carnival, exhibiting rhododendron flowers, showing off their classic cars and motorcycles, participating in the parades and shopping and dining in Historic Old Town and all around Florence.
For more information on the 114th annual Florence Rhododendron Festival, including applications for exhibitor space and parade entries, or to volunteer on the Chamber’s Rhody Fest committee, contact event coordinator Mitzi Hathaway at [email protected] or 541-997-3128.