May 22, 2019 — The 112th annual Rhododendron Festival brought out rich bouquets of colorful rhododendrons and highlighted the tapestry of people who collectively make up the area’s “Coastal Canvas.”
“What I enjoy most about this community event is the eclectic group of people who get involved,” said Florence Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bettina Hannigan. “From the people who run the 5K Rhody Run, to the BeachKomber Car Show and Shine, the Davis Shows NW Carnival, local restaurants and bars — so many come together to make the Rhododendron Festival each year.”
While the festival is the chamber’s largest event each year, only some of the many weekend activities are sponsored by the chamber, such as the Rhody Court Coronation, Maple Street Vendor Fair and the Grand Floral Parade. All the other events are planned by diverse community groups, such as the KCST/KCFM Coast Radio, Florence Elks Lodge #1858, Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, Kiwanis Club of Florence, BeachKomber Car Club, Eclectic Edge Racing, TR Hunter and more. The chamber handles the marketing for the whole event.
“There’s a high level of involvement,” Hannigan said.
While rain on Friday and Saturday thinned the crowds at the Show and Shine, Car Cruise and Kiwanis Kids Games, people remained in good spirits. Indoor activities, such as the Siuslaw Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society’s Rhody Flower Show and Sale and Florence Regional Arts Alliance’s Art Festival drew people inside the Florence Events Center. According to Hannigan, a record number of plants were sold over the two-day show.
“People still came to town, even if they had a later start this year,” she said.
The Rhododendron Festival started on Wednesday with the Rhody Court Coronation, which crowned Queen Rhododendra Madison Reynolds and King of the Coast Patrick Rowley.
“There are just wonderful reviews of the Coronation this year,” Hannigan said. “The kids were terrific, and we love supporting them with scholarships.”
The King and Queen’s float was a big part of the Grand Floral Parade on Sunday. Featuring overturned paint buckets, the float, sponsored by TR Hunter and provided by Gary Foglio, included the entire 2019 Rhody Court.
“I’m blown away each year by the number of people it takes to put on the parade,” Hannigan said.
Including Florence Ambassadors and Chamber Event Coordinator Rue Schertell, dozens of people volunteer to guide traffic, assign an order to the entrants, numbering more than 80 this year, and coordinate requirements of the various equestrian groups, marching bands, bike riders and more.
“And then the whole town turns out for the parade,” Hannigan said.
People lined Highway 101 from 27th Street down to Kingwood Street, where the parade route traveled under the Siuslaw River Bridge and onto Bay Street in Historic Old Town.
The Heceta Head Lighthouse was the Parade Grand Marshal in honor of its 125th anniversary in 2019. Other dignitaries include Florence Mayor Joe Henry and his wife Pam, Florence First Citizen Dee Osborne and Future First Citizen Audrey Lowder.
“There’s so much tradition involved in Rhody Days,” Hannigan said, “It brings people back each year for family get togethers. It’s healthy, clean family fun.”
And everywhere were the rhodies, many right at the peak of blooming. Coupled with a theme promoting public art, it was appropriate that the City of Florence and the Public Art Committee held a Public Paint at the new mural at Quince Street and Highway 126 to encourage community involvement in Florence’s art movement.
“I’m excited to see what else is going on with art in this town and how it will continue to stimulate our economy,” Hannigan said.
Additional information about the Rhododendron Festival is available through the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, 278 Maple St., which just released “Florence in Full Bloom,” a collection of memories of Rhody Days’ past.
The Florence Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center, 290 Highway 101, will continue to display Joshua Greene’s photos of past festivals throughout May. For more information, visit FlorenceChamber.com.