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Crafts Faire, Parade, Santa Kick Off Christmas Season
A bit of the North Pole is found in the Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank over the weekend. It was part of the holiday decorations in and around the park celebrating the holiday season during the Christmas Crafts Faire Saturday afternoon and the 50th annual Christmas Parade in the evening.News Photos By Ric McGinnis
Santa and Mrs. Claus visit with youngsters who participated in the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at Plaza del Rio Park in downtown Riverbank over the weekend. It was just following the parade and was part of the Christmas Craft Faire that began at noon on Saturday, Nov. 24. Ric McGinnis/The News
Riverbank’s own Naval Academy Midshipman Eli Vernon returned to downtown, this time to act as Master of Ceremonies and announcer for the 50th Anniversary Christmas Parade. He has continued his role as announcer for the parade through his service education. Vernon, a Riverbank High graduate, is 2½ years into his four years at Annapolis. Ric McGinnis/The News

Despite fears that rain might fall on participants, that jolly old elf made several appearances during Riverbank’s official kickoff of the Christmas season in downtown over the weekend. The showers had completed their run well ahead of time.

Traditionally held on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, the holiday fun found itself tucked neatly between the nation’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday observances that are part of the seasonal sales this time of year.

Riverbank’s Christmas Crafts Faire has become a relatively recent tradition for local residents, but the annual parade, always scheduled for the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, celebrated its 50th Anniversary this year, on Nov. 24.

Also somewhat of a tradition, Riverbank High School alumni Eli Vernon, now a third year Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, returned for duty as the parade’s Master of Ceremonies and announcer. Wielding a microphone while sporting dress blues, Vernon identified the parade participants as they passed the judging stand, entertaining the crowd with his individual brand of humor in between.

Vernon, who worked for the city’s Recreation Department while he was in school here, said he had to leave at 4 a.m. Sunday morning for San Francisco, to fly back to Annapolis in time to report in time for reveille to get to class on Monday morning. He said he was hoping to be able to return here for Christmas break.

Leading off the parade, in lieu of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps color guard was a new flag team, made up of Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien, carrying the flag, accompanied by Vice Mayor Darlene Barber-Martinez.

So far this school year, the NJROTC classes at Riverbank High have not been held because its unit commander retired at the end of the last school year. O’Brien, a retiree of active duty in the U.S. Navy, has said he hopes to be able to take over the unit at the beginning of the new semester coming up in January.

Other participants in the parade included marching units, bands, floats and other motorized vehicles as well as mounted units.

The units on horseback, or those pulled by horses, each won a first place trophy in their own category. In the Mounted Posse division, Riverbank Police Services unit was led by Chief Erin Kiely. The Miniature horse trophy went to Connie Hawkins with Pogo, the Plain Western prize went to Corky Fellingham and Cat.

The Future Horseman award went to seven-year-old Payton Gillians and her pony Louie, while the Parade category was collected by Juanita Ellington riding Gold Eagle. He was outfitted with a saddle decorated with vintage sterling silver made in San Francisco. She also won the Best of Show award in the mounted division.

The Silver Mounted Lady Senior category went to Laurette Locke, aboard Rosie, an 11-year-old Palomino. Her saddle, also adorned in sterling silver, was made in the 1940s.

Marching bands representing several schools helped brighten the atmosphere of the parade with their arrangements of traditional holiday tunes. First place in School Band Performance category went to Riverbank High School, with the Marching Bruins under the direction of Joey Aguilar. Cardozo Middle School’s band took home the third place trophy, while Ustach Middle School garnered the second place hardware.

Ustach is part of the Sylvan School District, so Riverbank students who live in the southwestern part of town, including the Crossroads area, attend there.

Another first place award in the Walking Group category went to Steph Steezy’s Dance Studio, with youngsters demonstrating their skill. Their studio is scheduled to open soon in downtown Riverbank.

The Business, Churches and Non-Profits float category found three entrants receiving trophies. Riverbank Youth Baseball Softball Association placed first, while the Girl Scout Golden River District, serving Riverbank, Oakdale and Northern Modesto, placed second. Third place trophy went to the Outdoor Adventure Club of Valley Springs 4H.

The first place automobile trophy went to the Knights of Columbus 1948 vintage sedan, expertly decorated in colorful lights.

Other participants included Cub Scouts, church groups, Radio Lazer 93.9 and city public works units, the Sheriff’s STARS volunteers, and police and fire units.

Traditionally, Santa and Mrs. Claus have arrived riding aboard Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Engine 26, at the very end of the parade, but this year they got to travel on the old 1939 fire engine the district has. They were followed by Engine 26, then a Riverbank Police Services motorcycle officer closed out the parade.

A Christmas Crafts Faire was held all afternoon, on a section of Third Street between City Hall North and Plaza del Rio Park, with entertainment on the park stage, all beginning at noon on Saturday. At about 3 p.m., horse drawn wagon rides began, winding through historic streets of downtown.

The parade began at 5:30 p.m., with the tree lighting and trophy awards following. The Crafts Faire continued until about 8 p.m.