GREENFIELD — For years, Terry Beagle and her family have helped plan the Children’s Parade of Flowers through downtown Greenfield. The annual Riley Festival event was the brainchild of her father-in-law, and she and her husband took over the arrangements years later, she said.
Watching hundreds of local youngsters strolling through downtown to place bouquets at the base of the James Whitcomb Riley statue outside the Hancock County Courthouse is always exhilarating, she said, letting out a sigh of relief Friday afternoon as the affair came to a successful close once again.
The parade is a longstanding tradition in Hancock County and a cornerstone of the annual Riley Festival, but a change in the Greenfield-Central School Corp. calendar for 2016 has some wondering what will become of next year’s parade.
For years, the bulk of the students participating in the event have been second- and third-graders from Greenfield-Central School elementary schools, as well as Greenfield-Central High School band members, whose music adds to the festivities.
But the 2016-17 school calendar puts students on fall break during the festival, meaning youngsters won’t be bused in for the event as they have been in the past.
It’s a change that worries Beagle, a longtime member of the Riley Festival board and chairwoman of the Children’s Parade of Flowers, but she’s determined as ever to make sure the parade pulls though.
“We will have a flower parade next year,” she said firmly Friday afternoon. “It may be a little bit different, but we will have a flower parade.”
An estimated 600 students from Eden, J.B. Stephens, Harris and Weston elementary schools took part in Friday’s parade. Teachers say the children learn about the event from their older siblings and classmates, and they eagerly await their turn to participate.
Emily Parker, a second-grade teacher at J.B. Stephens, said her students might not know a lot about Riley and the Hoosier poet’s history yet, but they recognize the tradition behind of the event. It’s a little disappointing to think the energy that comes with the parade won’t fill the halls next year, she said.
Riley Festival organizers already have been discussing what to do for the 2016 flower parade, Beagle said. She believes the event will open to the public, and organizers will appeal to parents and grandparents to bring their children out and walk the path to the statue with them.
It could all feel like a big reunion, she said.
Longtime Greenfield resident Stephanie May said she’d be happy to bring her children out to the event next year.
May watched happily from the sidewalk as her son, Noah, 7, walked in the parade with his Weston Elementary classmates. She and her husband have lived in Greenfield their entire lives, and Noah and 3-year-old, Lucas, have come to look forward to festival and its sweet treats, she said.
Students who participated in the parade Friday did so with as much enthusiasm as ever, organizers said. They giggled and chattered as they walked and occasionally chanted their school’s name to show their pride.
Seven-year-old Jillian Vaughn knows some of the most important things about Riley. She said she’s been to Riley Park and the pool there that carries the same name.
Friday afternoon, the J.B. Stephens second-grader walked for the first time with dozens of her classmates in a parade she knows takes her past a statue of the same guy, and she was excited to be part of it, she said.
Kale Caldwell, 8, a Weston Elementary student, said he got a pep talk from his family to prepare for the parade and warning from his parents about how blustery the day would be.
“My dad said, ‘It’s gonna be windy, so you better hold on to those flowers,’” Kale relayed.