From Thursday’s coronation of Queen Rhododendra and The King of the Coast to Sunday’s grand floral parade, the 110th Rhododendron Festival was a total success. By all indications, we may have had as many as 35,000 people attending this year. That’s four times the population of our town!
And, if eyewitness accounts are correct, about a half-dozen orcas were seen in the Siuslaw River. That makes two times in the last three years. We had orcas last year too, but they came during Memorial Day weekend. I guess orcas enjoy Oregon’s Coastal Playground too, but maybe for different reasons than the tourists.
This year we had flower, art, motorcycle, and classic car shows; parades, a street vendor fair, and a carnival—something for everyone. And boy, were the folks “ready to rhody” this year! You see, that was our theme: “Always Ready to Rhody.” We kind of borrowed it from the US Coast Guard’s Semper Paratus (Always Ready) slogan. The Coast Guard is celebrating its 100th year of service on the Siuslaw River so we asked if they would be our grand marshal for Sunday’s parade. They had a great float in the parade. Ha! Go figure…the Coast Guard had a “float!”
By the way, did you know that the Rhododendron Festival is the second-oldest festival of its kind in the west? It’s several years behind the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California, but about two weeks older than Portland’s Rose Festival. That’s pretty cool for our little town to keep it going for 110 years!
The event was blessed by sunshine and warm weather, and media coverage by all three Eugene TV stations and several radio stations. The Eugene media reported on our number-two ranking in USA Today for Best Small Town in the Northwest, and combined it with coverage of the Rhododendron Festival to give us a ton of exposure this year.
The parade, with nearly 100 entrants, featured bands, equestrian groups, classic cars, and floats from commercial and non-profit groups festooned with the requisite rhododendrons. The Grand Marshal’s award went to the Florence Elks Lodge, the Mayor’s award to Food Back Pack 4 Kids, the Queen’s award to Banner Bank’s Rhody Court entry, and the King’s award to the City of Florence. And entrants really rocked the rhodys this year!
On Thursday, Siuslaw High School students Claire Waggoner and Ben Cahoon were crowned Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast, respectively, during Thursday night’s coronation in front of 300 people at the Florence Events Center. They each received a Rhody Court Scholarship of $1500. Runners-up received $1000, and other senior court members received $500 each. The 13 members of the Rhododendron Court participate in community benefits and festival events, and represent Florence in other festivals. They’ve been great ambassadors for our town and our event!
One of the court’s activities was the sale of the official festival pin, designed this year by local graphic artist Susan Johnson. Pin sales raised more than $4000 for the scholarships. Anyone wearing this year’s pin can still get a dollar off a bowl of clam chowder through May 31 at participating restaurants including ICM, Siuslaw Riverside, Le Bouchon, The Bridgewater, Bay Street Grille, Beachcomber, The Firehouse, Homegrown, Bayview Bistro, and Surfside Restaurant.
And you’ve gotta love our amazing Florence Events Center! It was a hub of activity! They hosted the court’s coronation, the Rhododendron Society’s flower show and sale, the Florence Regional Arts Alliance show and sale, and the Jazz Kings concert. One of the Chamber’s corporate underwriters, Three Rivers Casino Resort, hosted a motorcycle show. Old Town had the Davis Shows carnival and a vendor fair, and there was amazing food for fundraisers at the Elks Lodge, a great classic car show and shine at Grocery Outlet, and more fun all over town.
A lot of folks think Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of the summer travel season, but Florence is always a step ahead of the fun with Rhody Weekend. There’s always so much to do in and around Florence, and this weekend adds even more fun to this place we call Oregon’s Coastal Playground. Come visit! Make it a day at the beach, or two, or a whole week, or a lifetime!
But don’t even think that we’re done for the year! Florence has the 8th Annual Wings and Wheels fly-in and car show on July 1, the Chamber’s Independence Day Celebration on July 4 (with twice the fireworks as last year!), our 10th annual Rods ‘N Rhodies Invitational Car Show and Community-wide Garage September 8-10, the Chamber’s Wine Walk, Chowderfest, and Great Glass Float Giveaway October 7-9, and the Florence Events Center’s Oktoberfest on October 14. You can get details at FlorenceChamber.com or you can contact Rosa Solano, event coordinator, at events@FlorenceChamber.com or 541-997-3128.