Float builders keep parade looking good

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2003

They stumble back into their houses night after night covered in paint, puncture wounds and sticky remnants of tape.

They do all of this for a spectacle for thousands of people - the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade.

They are the float builders.

Email newsletter signup

Kenneth Koerper, trustee, and Don Lewis, a church member, amongst others, have been putting together the First Baptist Church float since May 19, most of the time working from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Retail Decor Inc. building.

"The round figure is 40 hours," Lewis said. "That's not even counting overtime. There were times that some didn't even go home for lunch. They would eat breakfast, then finally go home for dinner."

During the process of stapling, painting and cutting wood, the church members working on the float have encountered one mainstay of float construction - making changes. The "200 years of Freedom" float features a large, blue wooden cutout of Ohio with an American flag painted on it. A cross was supposed to reflect on the cutout, but that did not work, Lewis said. Now, the float has a large wooden cross.

The distance from the top of the Ohio cutout to the road is 13 feet.

"We just hope we get judged and get first place before we hit the trees," Lewis said. "That way, we won't be in trouble."

One part of the construction that both Koerper and Lewis said they have enjoyed is the fellowship with other church members. Working on projects such as these help members get to know each other as people rather than just a name.

"Friendship really builds up," Lewis said.

A new entry this year is the King's Daughters Medical Center float, which has to make it across the Ashland bridge before the parade. As a result of this journey, parts of the float construction will be under way before the parade, Regina Stout, community services manager, said.

"It's a team effort; we've never had a controversy about anything," she said. "The people who work with us are volunteers, so they're interested in this."

Four to five people are on the float crew, but approximately 25 people from the medical center will be working at the parade Monday, Stout said.

Even though hands become sticky after working with double-sided tape, Stout said no one has been injured during the float process.

However, Christi Hardy, a janitorial worker for Ohio University Southern, has seen his share of minor injuries during his 4-5 years of building floats.

"I cut my finger cleaning a trailer, I bumped my head … You name it, it's probably happened," he said. "I've had paint on my hands, and I've probably smacked my finger with a hammer. I've had a sore back some times."

Nevertheless, when the work is done, Hardy has the privilege of seeing the cheering crowds right in front of him as he drives one of the floats through the parade.

"I usually just look for someone I know, or someone that knows me," he said. "I like to see what's going on, on the streets, seeing the crowd and how they're enjoying everything."

While Hardy and his co-workers from the OUS Physical Plant are putting the floats together, Janet Wagner, a library associate and part-time faculty member and Carmeleeta Stewart, a library specialist are also involved with the planning and sign-making.

"Teamwork is the key," Wagner said. "Without a team, this wouldn't be possible."

"You just build on an idea, agree on it and go from there," Stewart said.

Having a supportive environment at OUS along with several creative people has made their float creation go smoothly, both Wagner and Stewart said. OUS' float theme is "Ohio University Southern - Serving the Community and Serving the World."

The community, Stewart said, was instrumental in helping put together the float. Wagner visited VFW Post 8850 and was able to take digital photos of military insignias, which were needed for a soldiers' tribute on the float.

Actually, OUS will have more than one float. It will have two, plus displays of antique automobiles and Conestoga wagons. Physical plant supervisor Bob Rader will supervise the floats' journey through Ironton on the seat of an 1880s tricycle.

"All of us together have put in … about 350 hours," he said. "We have several floats, but they're simple, not complicated. The signage that those ladies (Wagner and Stewart) do is what takes so darn long."

Even though some of the floats only consist of an antique form of transportation on it, adding fringe around the trailer hauling it will still take two to three hours of work, Rader said. Despite this, Rader said he has not asked any one of his workers to work more than their eight-hour work day. He also complimented the planning work of the university's float committee members, whose planning helps with the process.

"This is a fantastic group to work with," he said. "You start with the committee and go straight through, with each person doing what they're supposed to do."