Florence area ‘Back in Bloom’ for festival


Photos by Mark Brennan, Zac Burtt, Ferris Haukom & Chantelle Meyer/Siuslaw News

Florence Area Chamber of Commerce’s 115th annual Rhododendron Festival

May 25, 2022 — Florence Area Chamber of Commerce brought back the 115th Rhododendron Festival May 19 to 22 with the theme of “Back in Bloom.” It marked four days of fun in Florence, especially with a return of several Rhody Days favorites, like the Davis Shows NW Carnival, Maple Street Vendor Fair, Rhody Days Show and Shine, activities for kids and the Grand Floral Parade.

“It was fun! And it was time,” said Florence Chamber President/CEO Bettina Hannigan. “People were ready to celebrate.”

The theme fit the mood for many of the thousands of people in attendance. The chamber presold carnival day passes, selling 1,400 of the wristbands before the sale ended. That’s up 100% than 2019, the last year the full festival was held.

“The whole Rhododendron Festival came in at about 185% of what it was in 2019,” Hannigan said. “The revenue on the parade was way up.”

The Davis family, who has brought their carnival to Rhody Days for more than 50 years, reported to the chamber that their revenue had been up 2-300% on average at their annual events.

“It's an outside event, so I think it's more comfortable for some people who are a little bit more wary,” Hannigan said.

The Florence Area Chamber of Commerce planned the return of Rhody Days around CDC guidelines for outdoor gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Mitzi Hathaway, the chamber’s director for tourism development, “A thousand details need to come together for an event this size. When we started planning the festival back in December, we were still on uncertain ground with the Delta and Omicron COVID variants lingering. Yet, we kept moving forward with the logistics with our fingers crossed.”

There were a few entries in the parade that withdrew due to COVID, but late applicants were able to fill in, leaving the total around 80 participants this year.

“It was all about bringing the best party we could to Florence!” Hathaway said.

Large numbers at some of the events, like the carnival or show and shine, didn’t deter people from enjoying the festivities.

“The car show was phenomenal this year,” Hannigan said. “Shout out to Ross Kroenert, Gary Cargill and Rods ‘N’ Rhodies, Inc., for that, because they really put together quite a production.”

This is the first year Rods ‘N’ Rhodies has presented the Rhody Days Show and Shine, and the group moved it to Siuslaw Middle School. This allowed a lot more space for vehicles and vendors, as well as a prime spot for people to visit Oscar Mayer’s Weinermobile.

The hotdog-shaped vehicle came to Florence thanks to coordination from Dan and Teresa Lofy, business owners, chamber members and volunteers.

Local nonprofits were able to set up booths at the show and shine, and food vendors ran out of food as the winds picked up.

The middle school was also a good place for people to watch the Junior Parade go by, with local gymnastics, home school, Florence Community PTA and others waving as they went down Oak Street. The parade is organized each year by Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue.

Many were able to follow the parade path to the field next to Siuslaw High School, where Kiwanis Club of Florence and Key Club set up the Kiwanis Kids Games. More than 250 kids came to the games within the first hour. Special stars of the day included a visit from the 2022 Rhody Court and the 501st Legion.

It was a busy day for the Court, as Queen Rhododendra Haylee Cole and King of the Coast Joseph started their morning at the Rhody Run, hosted by Florence Habitat for Humanity at the Florence Events Center (FEC). Court activities included many Saturday events — including a visit to the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum.

Habitat also revived the Rhody Mosey.

The FEC was also the site for the Siuslaw Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society’s Rhody Flower Show, featuring a rhododendron and azalea show and plant sale, and Florence Regional Arts Alliance’s 10th annual Rhody Days Arts Festival. 

In addition to the many events Thursday through Sunday, Rhody Days is capped each year by the Grand Floral Parade.

The annual parade features dignitaries — mayors from Florence, Dunes City and Newport; Florence’s First and Future First Citizen; and more — as well as floats, walking groups, bikes, clowns, horses and music. This year’s grand marshals were the Siuslaw Vikings state champion football team and girl’s and boy’s state champion cross country teams.

“Our full time staff of two couldn't do what we do, without the help of chamber volunteers and coordinators of other festival events throughout Florence,” Hathaway noted. “It was a team effort!”

Hannigan said that more than 20 volunteers stepped up just to help “wrangle” traffic, including members of the Rotary Interact Club from Siuslaw High School. The Lofys were a huge part in making the parade happen, as well.

The chamber also put together a judge’s panel for some of the parade’s awards. Judges were Christina Voogd from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Aqsa Khan from RAIN and Jesse Dolin from Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

“This year's festival will go down in history as one of special significance,” Hathaway said. “Not only did it bring thousands of people and much needed tourism dollars to Florence, it was a community celebration of making it through a two-year pandemic together!” 

For more information, visit FlorenceChamber.com.

Grand Floral Parade Judge’s Choice Awards

  • School #12 & #13 Tie Rhody Sr. & Jr. Court
  • Dignitary #11 Future First Citizen Ava Glowacki
  • Service #30 Florence Habitat for Humanity
  • Commercial #31 Three Rivers Casino
  • Equestrian #38 Eugene Pro Rodeo
  • Non-Commercial #54 Lebanon Strawberry Festival
  • Judges Favorite #65 City of Florence
  • Novelty #72 Florence Jeeps R Us