Parade a bridge between UF and the city
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.
Curtis Von Gunten has been coming to UF's homecoming parades for as long as he can remember.
The local dentist grew up in Gainesville, attending P.K. Yonge, and he set up practice here after he graduated from University of Florida's College of Dentistry. He makes sure he gets every homecoming Friday off so he can watch the parade with his family.
He's even participated in the homecoming parade, with the Boy Scouts, and in 2005 while he was a dental student. All of which makes him something of a local expert on UF homecoming.
"The floats are better this year," Von Gunten said, noting a lack of enthusiasm the previous few years. "People are actually putting in an effort."
Von Gunten embodies the two worlds that come together for the annual Homecoming Parade. Although the event is student-run, the four-mile, two-hour march from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to Main Street bridges the town-and-gown spectrum in its entirety.
The heavy student presence represented by Greek culture, several colleges, student government, service organizations and clubs is leavened by participants from local businesses, schools, charities and civic groups. Even local politicians partake, sitting in convertibles and waving to their constituents.
Tens of thousands of students, parents, alumni and locals formed a wall of orange and blue along University Avenue on Friday to watch the 90th Annual UF Homecoming Parade.
"It's a beautiful day," said Renee Smith, who came up with her husband from Clearwater to see their daughter Rachel, a sophomore at UF and this year's Miss Gainesville. "We're very proud of Rachel and all she's accomplished."
The spectators ate cotton candy, popcorn, pizza and hot dogs, and sipped beverages as they enjoyed perfect Chamber of Commerce weather — sunshine, a light breeze, and temperatures in the high 60s to mid-70s.
Of course, finding a good location is always a priority. Most people arrive early and set up folding chairs with well-stocked coolers.
Advertising major Tyler Beech took a more novel approach.
"We found a great spot," Beech said, sitting with his girlfriend, Nicole Carnevali, in a hammock slung between an oak tree and a metal gate post in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The parade started a little after noon in front of the football stadium without a hitch, as a squadron of Gainesville motorcycle cops rode in a circle, their lights flashing, before heading east on University toward downtown.
They led a parade of more than 150 groups — floats, politicians in convertibles, the homecoming court in a horsedrawn carriage, marching bands, majorettes and baton twirlers, drum corps, youth athletic groups dressed in track gear, even a dancing dragon manned by 13 people from a local martial arts dojo.
Alex Kaminsky, director of the Buchholz High marching band, said it took 15 minutes to whip his marching band into shape to play the school's alma mater, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." On the field, the band marches in intricate formations, Kaminsky said. But today, he said, all they had to do was march in a straight line — not that marching four miles is easy.
For Kaminsky, this is a labor of love: He's a UF alumnus. "This is near and dear to my heart," he said. "And it's a great experience for the students to get exposure and show support for the local community."
The floats ranged from meticulously crafted to quickly slapped together, including a cardboard replica of the DeLorean from "Back to the Future." Most were pulled by pickup trucks or diesel rigs, but at least one — the Hare Krishna float — was pulled by a gang of people in saffron robes. Another float was made entirely of recycled products.
Students from the Benton Engineering Council spent six weeks building their float, said Ellie Weindel, an industrial engineering major.
"Our theme is the Golden Age of Gator Engineering," Weindel said, explaining that different gods represented different disciplines.
For Weindel, it was her first time supervising a project with a budget and timeline. They didn't get their trailer until Monday, and had to build the float off the trailer and put it on this week.
The Kappa Alpha fraternity and its homecoming partners at Delta Zeta sorority had it easy coming up with a way to represent this year's theme of "Footprints of the Swamp."
"One of the guys in our frat had an airboat, and we thought that would be awesome," said Andrew Holshouser, a graduate student in international business. It also happened to be the only trailer they had, too.
They festooned the airboat with palm fronds and dragged it behind a pickup truck and enlisted a handful of brothers and sisters to hop aboard. "We're having a lot of fun so far, and we haven't even got on the road," Holshouser said.
Carter Ullman was excited to participate in making a float for the first time this year. He and his friends managed to put together a football field and scoreboard, with the hopeful score of the home team winning 14-3.
Ullman wanted to do more, but they ran out of time. Still, he said, it was a good experience.
"We're all here together," said Grace Ross, a friend of Ullman's. "It's all about celebrating your fellow Gators and supporting homecoming."
Bethel Seventh Day Adventist Church of Gainesville had about 75 children representing several Pathfinder clubs, some coming from as far away as Tallahassee, said Sheena Larry, the deputy director of the Bethel SDA. The group is similar to the Boy Scouts, but co-ed and more focused on Christian principles, she said.
It's their third year participating, she said. "The kids are more excited than nervous."
Angela Quarterman represented the Flossie B. McLendon Memorial Drill Team and Majorette Troupe, named after the Gainesville educator who saw a need to build self-esteem and leadership in children. A bunch of boys and girls sat on a giant papier mache alligator on a flatbed waiting for the parade to begin.
"This is our first year," Quarterman said. "They are very excited."
Heather Martin, a Gainesville resident and 2002 UF graduate, never got to see the parade because she always had to work.
This year, as a UF employee, she had Friday off, and used the opportunity to bring her 2-year-old son, Wyatt, to his first parade. "He really liked the bands and the tractor," she said. "He liked to dance to the music."
For the Davises, homecoming was a family affair. Andy and Sue Davis came down from Atlanta to see their children. Daughter Kathleen, a nursing freshman, stood with them as they all waited for Kathleen's brother to march by with his ROTC troop.
Madeline Bledsoe, 9, had a long wait before she got to see any of the parade. She and her grandfather, Bhuoc Duong, had been sitting at the end of the parade route for nearly a half hour.
"I don't see anything," she cried as she craned her neck down University. "Can we go a bit farther?"
It was Madeline's second parade, but one of many for her grandfather. He counseled her to wait.
Finally, she saw a line of officers coming down the road with rifles and flags.
"Now you know why it takes so long, right? They have to walk all the way down from the stadium," Duong said to his granddaughter. "It's a lot of work for them."
Staff writer Jeff Schweers and correspondents Kat Antunes, Charlene Hewitt, Jovahn Huertas, Jenna Lyons, Zack Peterson, Amber Swal and Colleen Wright contributed to this report.
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