The first time a lilac bush appeared in Spokane was in 1906. Two lilac bushes were planted by J. J. Browne, one of Spokane’s early builders, at West 2226 Second Avenue (Brownes Addition). The suggestion that Spokane be known as “The Lilac City” is attributed to Dr. S. E. Lambert, W.T. Triplett and John W. Duncan. In the early 1930s these men encourage the local garden club to plant lilac bushes throughout the City of Spokane. By 1938 there were 30 lilacs in Coeur d’Alene Park and 144 in Manito Park on Spokane’s Southside. Today lilacs can be seen in every variety and color throughout all parts of Spokane as early as mid April through late May.
According to early records, Lila Sayre was the first person who suggested a spring Lilac Festival. Under the guidance of the Associated Garden Clubs and the Spokane Floral Association (and its general chairman, Mrs. Ethyl Goodsell), a one-day event was planned in 1938 growing to a week long festival in the following years. The big event of the first Lilac Festival was a flower show featuring French, Persian and Chinese varieties of the city’s flower. The annual event was the brainchild of the late Mrs. Charles Goodsell, the president of the Spokane Floral Association. She was general chairman of the first celebration, which put a profuse array of lilacs before the public. The 1938 festival included a lilac show and a small parade with a float designed by Walt Peters as well as a number of marching bands. Also, lilac shoots were distributed to members of the community. An impressive display of lilacs adorned the Davenport Hotel lobby. The Davenport Hotel fountain was dressed in lilacs for the day. Every vase and jardinières that made the lobby internationally famous was filled with the beautiful blossoms. Guests left with an unforgettable picture of Spokane’s first Lilac Festival. Heavy showers in May did nothing but freshen the blossoms and nurture the enthusiasm of the members of the sponsoring groups.
The second year there was again a parade which consisted on one float. The flower show was the feature event. Mrs. Polly Mitchell Judd, who was then president of the Associated Garden Club, conducted a contest seeking the best slogan for Spokane’s festival. Submitted by Mrs. F. P. Montieth, it was “Spokane’s Best When Lilac Drest”. That year the America Legion drill team met arriving trains and busses to present lilacs to passengers. New events included a tea and card party.
In 1940, Shannon Mahoney was selected as the first Lilac Festival queen. This year was the first year that high school bands were in the parade. The 1941 Queen was Ann Hite and serving as the 1942 Queen Bobbie Judd.
In 1942 war conditions took precedence over community events. A flower show was held, however the parade was dispensed with, but the garden clubs remained active by giving lilacs to solders passing through Spokane on troop trains. No Festivals were held in 1943, 1944 or 1945 however with the end of World War II on the evening of June 20, 1945 some 34 lilac enthusiasts met to discuss the formation of a Lilac Festival Association. The following week, on the 26th of June, 1946 the Spokane Lilac Festival Association was official formed. Charter Board members included: Mrs. J. F. Clinton, Mrs. W. Trumbell, Mrs. William H. Cowles, Jr., Mrs. H.R. Newton, Mrs. Dalluge, Joel Ferris, Frank Lavagetto, George Hackett and Edward H. Hughes. Mr. Hughes was elected as the first Lilac Festival Association President and served as President for 1946 and 1947. Demonstrating exceptional leadership and organizational ability, Hughes brought individuals and groups together who were capable of making the festival an outstanding civic event that has won international recognition for the Queen City of the Inland Empire. The Vice President of the Festival was Mrs. J. Frank Clinton.
Dates for the 1947 Spokane Lilac Festival were May 14-21. The highlight of the festival was a lavish display of more then 600 lilac blooms, comprised of about 50 different species, in the Marie Antoinette Room of the Davenport Hotel. Over 150 prizes were awarded to participants who had the best collection of 20 or more named French lilacs. The prizes ranged from $2.00 to $6.00. On May 14, 1947, the first “formal” Lilac Festival show was held; thousands of residents attend the varied activities.
In November, 1947, Mrs. O.F. Allen met the President of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce, Joseph Drumheller, and other businessmen. No Lilac Festival Queen was selected during 1946, 1947 and 1948. It was their belief that for the coming year, 1948, the Lilac Festival Association should concentrate its efforts on a beautiful parade and lilac show as well as decorating the city and holding a contest for a Lilac Queen. Williams F. Peters, as chairman of the parade committee, with his son, R.W. Peters, as co-chairman were in charge of what they considered the largest and most beautiful parade ever held in the city.
The 1948 festival under the guidance of President O.F. Allen had 40 bands and 30 floats, with the parade being held on a Friday. This was not a good day for out of towners, so it was changed to Saturday. Miss Spokane headed the parade, which was viewed by some 40,000 spectators. At the June 1948 board meeting to evaluate the festival, it was agreed that the Spokane people felt that the Lilac Festival was their big event of the year, and was to be enjoyed by all segments of society. The Chamber’s executives committed themselves to insure its continued success.
With the 1949 Festival, the phrase “Spokane’s Best When Lilac Drest,” which had been used by the Garden Clubs was replaced with “Spokane, The Lilac City”. According to President John Armenia, over 75,000 persons viewed the 1949 activities. During this festival, the Retail Trade Bureau donated funds to decorate the streets in the downtown area. The 1949 Lilac Festival Queen was Donagene Herr. The flower show was held at the Civic Building. The rules for exhibitors in the Spokane Lilac Show required every entry must contain a lilac. This year 115 lilac bushes were purchased. The park board paid for 57 and the Lilac Festival Association purchased 58. They were planted in Manito, Cannon Hill, High Drive, Franklin and Corbin Parks. Some were kept in the nursery for further use.
At the annual Lilac Festival Association meeting in December, 1949, President Harvey Guertin introduced Mr. O. F. Allen who gave a short talk on “his dream” of the future possibilities of the Lilac Festival. By building slowly and soundly the festival would, he suggested, take its place with such outstanding events as the Portland Rose Show and Wenatchee’s Apple Blossom Festival. After the war years a national day of remembrance was established as Armed Forces Day to be held annually third Saturday in May. This event introduced a new aspect to the Lilac Festival. With the 1950 Festival, the 92nd Bomb Wing of Geiger Field entered the scene as the official color guard of the parade. Since the nation’s oil industry strike was felt as a result of a recent defense department ruling, all “fly overs” by military aircrafts scheduled for Armed Forces Day, May 17, 1950 had to be canceled. Nineteen-fifty was the first year that a military float was in the parade. Reigning over the parade was Queen Barbara Crosby.
In 1951 the Festival Royalty was Queen Donna Bagdoon and Princesses Gail Hollister and Joy Christiansen. President RW “Bob” Peters, Chairman of the 1947 Parade Committee is the oldest living President of the Spokane Lilac Festival at this writing.
In 1952 the Lilac Festival launched the concept of “season tickets”. Thirty three girls competed for the Lilac Queen honors. The 1952 Lilac Festival Queen was Carol Haas. Joining the parade were Bozo the Clown and Bobby Benson. In 1952 President John Plastino reviewed the growth of the festival and determined the necessity for year around continuity of the program. It was determined that an executive secretary position was necessary to provide the association with both the staffing of telephone and mail activities. Don Bowsher, a member of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce staff was named executive secretary – a position he held for a number of years.
The Washington Legislature designated 1953 as the “Centennial Year” in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the territory of Washington. The theme of the flower show, as selected by its President Lloyd Anderson, was “The Turn of the Century”. Reigning over this year’s festival was Queen Gail (Jackson) Jarvis and Princesses Carol Jean Smith and Lora Lee Wolfe. Hop-a-Long Cassidy, (William Boyd) Saturday afternoon idol of America’s Cowboys and Indians television served at the Honorary Grand Marshal. The 1954 Festival President was Ward Walker and Queen was Rosemarie Thomsen.
In the early 50’s there were two parades on the third Saturday in May – an Armed Forces Day Parade and a community parade. By 1955, community and military leaders met and agreed to “merge” the two parades into a combined Lilac Festival Armed Forces Parade held on Saturday morning. President Nave Lien presided over the first Inland Empire Salute Dinner (now known as the President’s Dinner). The 1955 Queen was Joanne Henry.
The festivals of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s saw many major entertainers coming to Spokane to participate in the festival activities. Those included John Vivyan – known as Mr. Lucky, Dana Andres, Don Hagerty, the Ink Spots, Spike Jones and Gordon MacRae. Reigning over the 1956 Festival was Shari Lynn Fain and President Len Spooner.
President in 1957 was Ed Johnson with Kay Levesque serving as Queen. Flash floods isolated Spokane during the 1957 Festival. Roads and bridges were closed. Yet the festival activities continued in spite of the weather. This sort of commitment and tenacity remains a hallmark of the Spokane Lilac Festival Association. Even with the weather – parade officials estimated over 50,000 spectators lined the parade route!
Until 1953, the Lilac Queen selection was open to young ladies, eighteen years of age and older. Candidates were sponsored by garden clubs, civic organizations, service clubs and miscellaneous groups. In the year previous more than 75 candidates entered the selection process. Nineteen fifty three marked the first year that the court and the queen were chosen exclusively from Spokane area high school seniors. Reigning over the 1958 parade was Denise Bogle of Marycliff High school. Marycliff and Holy Names Academy were “girls” only Catholic High schools. In years to come Marycliff and Holy Names Academy were closed with Gonzaga Prep (“boys” only Catholic High school) serving both boys and girls. Since 1958 the Spokane Lilac Festival Association and the Spokane area high schools have worked together to form the Lilac Festival Royalty Court. Through the years the number of princesses in the court has varied. Although open to Spokane area high schools – not all schools were included. In 2004 the Lilac Festival dramatically changed its Royal Court program and invited all Spokane County high schools (28) to enter the selection process.
President Joe Kipper brought the Carnival to the Festival Week activities in 1958. The Carnival was a part of the Festival for almost fifty years.
Donna Jean Goodell of Mead High school served as Queen in 1959. Festival President was General Ralph Phelps. The first souvenir program was introduced. Late in the 50’s the Fire and Accident Prevention Committee of the Chamber of Commerce joined with the parade committee in developing safety regulations for floats; they enforced these regulations. Festivals throughout the nation used the fire and safety standards established by The Spokane Lilac Festival as the industry of festivals and events grew in America.
In 1960 under the guidance of President Russell Walker, a Thursday night Torchlight Parade was originated to allow more participation by Spokane and Inland Empire units. At that point bands were not allowed to enter the parade if not accompanied by a float. As with any change – many within the Festival felt a night parade would not be attended – could not be successful and was doomed to fail. However in a few short years the Thursday evening Torchlight Parade surpassed the attendance of the Saturday morning parade in popularity. The 1960 Lilac Festival Queen’s Coronation was held at Shadle Park High School. Serving as Queen was Nancy Keller of Central Valley High School.
The Hospital Visitation Program started with the 1961 Festival. The court visited Shriner’s Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Sacred Heart and Deaconess Hospitals. The Lilac Court annually makes every effort to visit children in hospitals, Ronald McDonald House, the Veterans Hospital, numerous retirement centers and care facilities. Queen Sara Ann Jullion, of Marycliff High School and the 1961 Court would be proud to know the tradition they started remains strong today.
In 1962 the President was W. E. “Diff” Difford Jr. This year brought the Baseball Queen Contest. Serving as Queen was Louise Henry of Lewis & Clark High School – who ironically was allergic to lilacs! Of special note was the airing of the nationally known radio and television show “Queen for a Day”, from the Spokane Coliseum during Festival week, hosted by Jack Bailey.
Queen Sheila Bayley of North Central High School joined Persident S. Luther Essick for the 1963 Festival. Molly McLellan of Lewis & Clark served as the 1964 Queen. That year’s president was Al Schilling. This was the first year that the Formal Escorts were formed. Grand Marshal was General Robert J. Wood, Director of Military Assistance in the Department of Defense, Washington D.C. There was a special welcome to Spokane’s Sister City from Nishinomiya, Japan. Mayor and Mrs. Tatsuo Tatsuuma were the honored guests of Spokane during the Festival. In 1963 the Festival designed and built a “Light Torch”. The torch was redesigned in 1964. It was located at Howard and Riverside. The torch featured a huge rotating diamond in keeping with the city and state Diamond Jubilee Celebration. Queen Kathy Swanson of Lewis & Clark served as Queen in 1965 under the leadership of President Rene Siebert. New that year was the Picnic Bowl Football Game and a four color souvenir program produced and sold as a fundraiser for the Festival.
In 1966 Stan Ross was President and this was the first year of the Invitational Drill Team Competition. The competition featured some of the foremost teams in the nation. The event was sponsored by the 92nd Strategic Aerospace Wing from Fairchild Air Force Base. The competition consisted of men’s and women’s events in addition to an individual men’s competition. New to the court selection process was Ferris High School. Serving as Lilac Festival Queen in 1966 was Kathy Forster of Marycliff High School
The Lilac Festival button (or pin as it is now referred) was introduced in 1967. The buttons were booster pins which sold for a dollar. Besides being commemorative of the festival the booster pins admitted wearers to two major festival events. The theme this year for the Associated Garden Club was “Down Lilac Lane”, and the Persident was Al Turrill. A new activity was added in 1967 – Spokane had its first bicycle meet sponsored by the Century Road Club Association in cooperation with the Spokane Lilac Festival Association. The bike race was sanctioned by the Amateur Bicycle League of America. The Queen for 1967 was Diane Hausken of East Valley High School.
Don Dagman was selected president of the Lilac Festival for 1968. Major General William Beverly was Grand Marshal of the Lilac Festival/Armed Forces Day Parade. The theme of the spring flower show was “Lilac Enhanced”. A lit bit of Spokane’s history was relived in 1968 with a unique Native American encampment in Franklin Park. Sixty Native American “teepees” were erected by many members of different tribes coming from as far away as North and South Dakota. The 1968 Queen was Sandra Pederson of North Central High School.
The 1969 Festival saw Judy Swanson of Mead High School as Queen with Patrick Kenney serving as Festival President. Bob Barker – of “The Price is Right”. 1970’s queen came from Shadle Park High School – Jeanine (Hardin) McKinney. Leading the festival was President Lee Milot. Lois Miller of University High School served as Queen for 1971 with Neil Dompier serving as President. Special guest for 1971 was Nancy Kay Peterson, Miss Washington. The Honorary Parade Marshal was television new icon Chet Huntley. Lieutenant General James V. Edmunsen, Deputy Command in Chief, US Strike Command, USAF served as Grand Marshall.
During a 1971 board meeting, the Lilac Fsetival Association stated that the objectives of the festival were: To focus favorable attention on Spokane as the City of Lilacs, to attract favorable national and region attention to Spokane, to give visitors and residents an opportunity to exhibit their talents and enthusiasm, and to salute the armed forces within the Spokane regional trade area. Additionally the Festival was to “act as a business stimulus both during the festival and throughout the year, and to maintain a favorable business relationship year ’round between Spokane and the Inland Empire”.
Reigning over the 1972 Spokane Lilac Festival was Queen Lisa Smith of Ferris High School. Curt Bloomquist served as president. Special guests were Joan Auge who was Queen of Snows and Karen Erickson, who was 1972 Camellia Queen. Honorary Grand Marshal was Sue Ann Langdon, co-star of the CBS television show Arnie. She was the featured speaker at the Queen’s Royal Luncheon. The Sunday farewell brunch was added to the ending of Festival week activities.
1973 saw Shadle Park High School’s Vicki Kay Hayter serve as Queen with businessman Tom Garrett serving as President. The Spokane Lilac Festival float traveled to the Calgary Stampede – winning Best Overall Float; at the Portland Festival our float won the Queen’s Trophy and at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day our float won the Community Sweepstakes Award. The float also appeared at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, BC as well as its traditional annual appearances in Wenatchee, Seattle and Olympia. Themed to promote Spokane’s World Fair – Expo 74, the float featured a stylized Mobius strip. Grand Marshal for the Torchlight Parade was Allen Ludden – host of the ABC TV game show “Password”. His wife Betty White’s (of Golden Girls) favorite flower was the lilac which she acknowledged receiving a bouquet from Spokane when she narrated the Portland Rose Parade. Grand Marshal for the Armed Forces Day Parade was Admiral Bernard A. Clarey, USN, Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet, the first four-star flag officer to lead a Lilac Parade. The US Air Force Thunderbirds were the highlight of the Aerospace Day at Fairchild. The expenses associated with the production of a float that would meet the qualifications to appear in Pasadena and Portland – were huge – all expenses were privately funded by Lilac Festival President Tom Garrett.
Kelly Owens of West Valley High School served as the 1974 Lilac Queen under the guidance of President Al Pierce. Expo 74 honored and recognized the Festival with a special program in Expo’s outdoor amphitheater – in Riverfront Park. A logging competition was added to this year’s festivities. The event included axe throwing, speed climbing, and horizontal speed chop. Entries were limited to two men’s and one women’s team per school. Grand Marshals for the Torchlight Parade were Ron Pinkerton and Kevin Tigh – stars of the NBC television series, “Emergency”. The Armed Forces Parade Grand Marshal was General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC, Commandant.
In 1975 Charles (Chuck) Bloom was President as Lisa Shields of Ferris High School served as Queen. Honorary Grand Marshal for the torchlight Parade was Spokane’s own – renowned singer Theresa Brewer. She performed at two Opera House performances. Lieutenant General William F. Pitts, Commander of the 15th Air Force stationed at March Air Force Base, California was Grand Marshal of the Lilac Festival/Armed Forces Torchlight Parade. Special guest was the 1974 Camellia Queen, Anne Trebilock. The floats in this year’s parade had such themes as 200 years of Flying, Colonial Living, Mystique, Betsy Ross, Salute in Red, White and Blue, and You’ve Come along Way Lady! Saturday morning saw the launching of a hot air balloon between Howard and Post Streets in downtown Spokane. The launch represented the 10 a.m. start of the Saturday Armed Forces parade. This year the Fairchild Air Force Base presented an “Inland Empire Aerospace Day”, which was highly successful. The Heritage of Horses was represented this year. In the 1975 parade, some of the finest descendants of horses participated. The oldest breed in the parade was represented by the Arabian.
The first Lilac Festival button (1958) had little success. In 1967, the button was again instituted as a means of generating funds. In 1972 the buttons were simply souvenirs. Lilac Festival Directors were provided 10 each – to sell to friends. In 1974 the Lilac Festival Association ordered 25,000 pins. The buttons were a small shield with a lilac in the middle and the words Spokane Lilac Festival surrounding the lilac. When the buttons arrived 6,000 had the word Spokane misspelled. Approximately 10,000 buttons of the 25,000 ordered were sold and the Festival experienced a substantial loss. In 1975 the Festival opted to drop the button sale. However loss of button revenue for 1975 prompted Lilac Directors Julie Ledbetter and Doris Distad to sell the 1974 buttons up and down the streets of Spokane during the Parade. Together they raised $3,500! Their efforts resulted in the Festival ending its financial year in the black. Nineteen seventy seven saw the unveiling of “The Underground Button”. The unofficial “button” was created by Dan Eagle. For the next 27 years Dan produced “The Underground Button”. Each year Eagle’s button was a parody on the Festival theme. Often controversial – yet a Spokane tradition, the “the Underground Button” became part of the legacy of the Festival. Mr. Eagle passed away in 2003. A tradition was loss with the passing of Mr. Eagle.
Reigning over the 1976 Festival was Queen Mary Lebsack of Rogers High School. The 1976 President was George White. In recent years the attendance at Saturday’s Lilac Festival/Armed Forces Day Parade on Saturday dropped substantially, but the Thursday evening parade maintained its popularity – growing in attendance year after year. Many reasons were cited for Saturday’s sharp spectator decline; television coverage lead folks not to attend in person; weekend family get togethers at lake homes, weather; too long of a parade and the duplication of units. Following an intensive study of the two parades, it was decided to drop the Saturday daytime parade and concentrate on the Torchlight Parade. Community leaders, downtown retailers, school officials and others were consulted and the decision to combine the Thursday night and Saturday day parades into one Spokane Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, the third Saturday of May – at 7:45 p.m., was born. Its success is common knowledge. The 1976 Parade included 170 units; over 50 floats, 50 bands, drill teams, 20 equestrian unites, eleven precision military units and 16 specialty units. The flower show was held at the Finch Arboretum with the theme, “Our Heritage in Flowers.”
Reigning over the 1977 Lilac Festival was President Ralph Husom and Queen Karen Stratton of Marycliff High School with the Coronation held in The Spokane Opera House. Vice Admiral Pierre Charbonnet, Jr., Chief of Naval Reserve, New Orleans served as Grand Marshal. Dan Haggerty, star of NBC television’s show – “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams”, served as Honorary Grand Marshal. Canada’s aerobatic airplanes the “Snowbirds” recognized as one of the world’s most exciting precision flying teams performed as the feature attraction of the 1977 Aerospace Day at Fairchild.
Tamara Sweeney of Gonzaga Prep High School served as 1978 Queen with Larry Nickerson serving as President. The Grand Marshall was Major General William R. Maloney. The thirteenth annual Drill Competition was spectacular. Earla Schafer of North Central High School served as the 1979 Queen. Paul Redmond of Washington Water Power served as President. General Jack J. Carlton, USAF (retired) who commanded the 92nd Bomb Wing at FAFB in 1954 and 1955 was Grand Marshal. The Lilac Festival Float – usually designed to carry three members of the Royal Court held all 12 members of the Court in 1978.
Reigning over the 1980 Spokane Lilac Festival was Candace Chapple of West Valley. The President was Gordon Wilcox. General Volney F. Warner was Grand Marshal of the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade. The Inland Empire Aerospace Day included the world’s fastest aircraft, the Mach 3 Plus SR-71, which cruised at an altitude in excess of 15 miles high and maintained a speed of 33 miles a minute. The concept of the Festival designing, building, maintaining and displaying a second smaller float came about in 1980.
In the early 1960’s 15,000 people visited Fairchild Air Force Base’s first Open House. Eventually due to the overwhelming response to this event the Open House served as the end of Festival week activities. The Open House continued to be held the third Sunday of May until the late 1990s. Attendance seemed to dwindle of the years and FAFB moved its annual Air Show to mid July in 2003.
However the May 19, 1981 Air Show was cancelled. Mount St. Helens, an active volcano some 300 plus miles to the west of Spokane and Fairchild exploded – spewing volcanic ash as far away as the middle of the United States. The base had over 100,000 visitors on base when the decision to cancel the show was made.
1981 was the year of the Centennial Edition. Reigning over the year’s Festival was Queen Diane Polinske of West Valley High School and President Marvin Rubens. Admiral Donald Davis was the Grand Marshal of the Lilac Festival. The Budweiser Clydesdales, eight perfectly matched champion horses participated in the Festival. The Clydesdales continue to be a real crowd pleaser in the years in which they are a part of the Parade. The Bed Race was held in downtown Spokane for the first time in 1981. The Bed Race was divided into three divisions, with teams in competition for top honors in the mend’s women’s and open division. The winners received a trip to the Kingdome in Seattle for the regional Bed Race Championship. A special reunion of the Air National Guard’s 116th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was held.
President Don Head presided over the 1982 Lilac Festival and that year’s Queen was Shelley Gilchrist of Lewis & Clark High School served as Queen. General Bennie Davis, Commander of the Strategic Air Command of which Fairchild Air Force Base belonged, served as the Grand Marshall. Guests from Nishinomiya, Japan, Spokane’s Sister City, joined the parade, along with Ronald McDonald, Artie the Penguin and The Pretzel Man. Emma Lou Brophy, Parade Manager since 1960 retired. The festival honored Emma Lou by including her in the parade!
Starting in 1983 the Festival President was responsible to select the theme for the year. President Ron Hardin selected “Spread Your Wings”. Kris Unicume of Central Valley High School was selected Queen. In 1983 the festival had such events as Special Olympics track and field meets on Saturday at the Spokane Community College, a rock music festival, art shows, car washes and various other activities.
Queen for 1984 was Kelley Eddy of Ferris High School with Jack Riggins serving as President. The theme for 1984 was “A Salute to Canada”. Lieutenant General Donald C. McKenzie Deputy Commander-in-chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command was Grand Marshal. That year’s pin arrived with the American and Canadian flags displayed incorrectly. More pins were ordered, however the “incorrect” pin became and remains a highly sought after collectors item.
The 1985 theme, “Salute to Youth”, was selcted by President Ken Torkelson. Queen Amy Schimmels came from Ferris High School. The Grand Marshal was General Richard H. Thompson, Commander of the US Army Material Command, Washington DC. Mickey Mouse served as the Honorary Grand Marshal.
In keeping with the 1986 Lilac Festival theme, “A Tribute to Women”, the Spokane Lilac Festival Association’s Grand Marshal was Captain Louise C. Wilmot, USN. CPT Wilmot had served in various military positions, Deputy Director for Accession Policy in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of Defense of Manpower, head of the Woman’s Equal Opportunity Branch of Navy Personnel, and Navy State Liaison Officer in the Office of Legislative Affairs. The Honorary Grand Marshal was Minnie Mouse. The Queen was Monika Palmlund of Lewis & Clark and the President of the Festival was Jerry Fletcher.
Kristina Kripaitis from Shadle Park High School served as the 1987 Queen reigning under “A Salute to Agriculture” theme. The President was Guy Perham. The Grand Marshal was General John T. Chain, Jr., General Chain was the Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Air Command (SAC), and Director Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
The 50th Anniversary of the Festival occurred in 1988. President Guy Sligar and his “Golden Girls” were headed up by Queen Darci Banta of West Valley High School. The Grand Marshal was Major General Donald E. P. Miller of the US Marine Corps. Major Miller was the Commanding General, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing/Deputy Command, 1st Marine Amphibious Force, FMF, Pacific, Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California. The Lilac Festival button was a replica of the first button made, with the slogan “Spokane’s Best when Lilac Drest”.
“Turn Back Time” served as the 1989 Festival Theme under the leadership of the first woman President of the Festival, Marilyn Thordarson. The Queen was Andrea Vickerman from Ferris High School. This was the first year for Premier Sponsorship which showed great promise for the future of the Festival. Washington Water Power, Security Pacific Bank, Inland Empire Pontiac Dealers and the Spokesman Review/Chronicle were the first Premier Sponsors of the Festival. In future years Premier Sponsors have included Tidyman’s, Global Credit Union, Wells Fargo Bank, Avista Utilities, Northern Quest Casino and the Kalispel Tribe, Sacred Heart Medical Center and Washington Mutual. The 1989 float had sixteen carousel horses on it. An area-wide contest was held with high school students painting one or more of the horses on the float. The themed pin – one of the most popular to be sold – and one of the most difficult for collectors to find – had a carousel horse on it – reminiscent of the Carousel at Riverfront Park.
The theme for 1990 was “Flight Technology” and the President was Earl Edwards. Twelve princesses were selected by area high schools with Heather Curtis of Rogers High School reigning as Queen. The primary float depicted the visit of a space ship from outer space accompanied by several space creatures. The float was escorted by all of the 22 out of town and regional festival dignitaries. Grand Marshal was Lieutenant General Cromer – a former Lewis & Clark and WSU graduate. Called to duty in the Middle East – President Edwards was unable to fulfill his duties as President. The Spokane Lilac Festival became its own 501 c 3 not for profit organization in 1991/1992. The Festival moved its headquarters to 315 West Mission.
The 1991 theme “Stars and Stripes Forever” although selected early in the Festival year, proved to be the battle cry of the world as Desert Storm and Desert Shield war in Iraq broke out. Festival President, Bob Jones selected the theme because of his deep sense of patriotism and civic duty – as a result of numerous US Flag burning incidents associated with the Iraq War. Amy Cartledge of North Central High School was selected Queen. Vice Admiral David M. Bennett served as Grand Marshal. Prisoner of War Captain Dale Storr of Spokane served as the Honorary Grand Marshal. Focusing on the returning Desert Storm veterans – the Festival brought out the best in Spokane.
“For the Fun of It” served as the theme for the 1992 Festival year with Tiffany Brickner from Gonzaga Prep reigning as Queen. Craig Stolle served as Festival President. This year brought changes in the office staff with Executive Director Dick Oakley leaving. Coming on as Parade Coordinator was Robin Waller. Robin possessed strong skills in community and civic relations. Her zest and enthusiasm were evident for the next 11 years until 2003 when funding issues reduced the office staff to one full time Executive Director. However at the same time – the Festival volunteers assumed a stronger role in the day to day operations of the Festival. New and exciting ideas for the future of the Festival were presented by the new Executive Director – Dan Rudell. The Grand Marshal for the Torchlight parade representing the US Marines was Brigadier General B. Don Lynch, Command General, 1st Force Service Support Group, FMF, Camp Pendleton, California. Two Honorary Grand Marshals were present; US Congressman Thomas Foley the 49th Speaker of the House of Representatives and Mark Rypien, Washington Redskins 1991 NFL Superbowl’s most valuable player. Also – 1992 brought another event to the Festival. The Pacific Northwest High School Marching Band Championships – the second Saturday of October at Joe Albi Stadium bring together 24 high school marching bands from around the Inland and Pacific Northwest for a full day of drill team and marching band competition. This annual event continues to serve as the largest fund raising event of the Festival.
The theme for 1993 was “For The Kid in Us”, selected by President Don Krause. The 1993 pin – a big teddy bear – was one of the most popular selling pins ever. Queen Jessica Lotze of Ferris High School served as Queen. 1993 served as a year of firsts: fund raising was kicked off by the first Halloween Masquerade Ball and Auction, which was a huge success; the first ever golf scramble occurred in the spring followed by a two day golf tournament which served to kick off Lilac Festival activities. The Festival cooperated with the US Postal Service for the national Initial Issue of the Four Floral Series Stamps featuring the Lilac Stamp during Festival Week. For the first time the International Lilac Association held their annual meeting in Spokane during Festival Week and their President was honored in the Parade. The Lilac Festival coordinated its first Variety Show at the Met Theater which highlighted local area talent. The Grand Marshal of the parade was USAF Major General Thomas Griffin, Commander of the prestigious US Air Force Weapons and Tactics Center, Nellis AFB, Nevada. Perfect weather brought enormous crowds to view the Torchlight Parade.
The 1994 Festival theme “Flight of Fantasy” was selcted by President Roberta Greene to showcase our continued partnership with Fairchild Air Force Base. Two festival pins were produced and sold – one featuring lilacs and the Clocktower in Riverfront Park and the other a winged creature in flight. Queen Anelise Kirschbaum of University High School represented the area youth during the Festival. Highlights of 1994 were the hiring of Executive Director Ed Neunherz, retired Public Affairs officer from FAFB; an extremely aggressive and successful sustaining membership and corporate development drive; and the purchase of a new trailer to transport the float. The Parade Grand Marshal was Lt. General Calvin Waller, USA (retired). Actress Patty Duke served as Honorary Grand Marshal.
“Lilac Country” was the 1995 theme under the leadership of President Dick Totten. Shadle Park High School’s Carrie Keyes served as Queen. Major General Donald W. Shepperd, Director of the Air National Guard, was the Grand Marshal for our parade which featured two of the huge character themed balloons seen in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City. Festival time brought us another successful golf scramble, the third annual Variety Show, featuring local talent, plus the weekend activities; the MDA bed races, the “world’s largest banana split”, in Riverfront Park and of course – the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade. Willard Scott – of The Today Show joined the Festival activities. The May 19th segment of the weather portion of The Today Show was broadcast direct form Spokane at 3:00 a.m. local time.
Jack Aronson served as the 1996 President with our Queen coming from West Valley High School, Abigail Palmer. The 1996 theme Lilac Luau made for a great way to recognize our 50th state – Hawaii. Grand Marshal for the 1996 Armed Forces Torchlight Parade representing the United States Navy was Rear Admiral Tom F. Hall. From Hawaiian themes to good old “rock n roll”, President Bob Tallan took us back to the 50s with “Rock Around the Clock”. Serving as the 1996 Queen was Brianne Adams of University High School. Another corporate sponsor came on board in 1996 – Southwest Airlines!
Any history of the Festival would be remiss without discussing Lilac Loons. Each year, mysteriously, lilac blossoms are painted on any number of streets and intersections in Downtown Spokane. Loons take their responsibility very seriously – out on the streets by 3:30 or 4:00 a.m., on an agreed upon date – painting the Lilac City Lilacs throughout downtown, finishing by 6 a.m. – putting away their paint on brushes until spring of the next year.
Serving as the Grand Marshal for the 1997 Parade Lieutenant General Charles T. “Tony” Robertson, Jr., Commander 15th Air Force, Travis Air Force Base, California. Changes to office staffing occurred in January, 1997 with the departure of long time Festival Secretary Linda Kiddo. Chris Humann came to the Festival as its Office Manager. Chris brought a wealth of organizational and computer skills to the Festival. Chris remained with the Festival through February, 2003. August 1997 saw the departure of Executive Ed Neunherz and the arrival of Brusan Wells as Executive Director.
The 1998 Festival Theme, “Wonders Down Under” gave a special Australian flair to the Festival. Festival President John Cocks and Queen Leslie Ogden of Ferris High School reigned over the parade – complete with four huge character balloons. Eagle Hardware sponsored the “Wonders Down Under” float. Continued aggressive fund raising activities, spearheaded by President Cocks resulted in an extremely successful financial year for the Festival. Again serving as the Grand Marshal for the 1998 Parade was Lieutenant General Charles T. “Tony” Robertson, Jr., Commander 15th Air Force, Travis Air Force Base, California. The 1998 Air Show at Fairchild Air Force featured the US Air Force Thunderbirds.
As 1999 quickly approached and Y2K – The Year 2000, President Bill Phipps of 1999 and President Denny Nichols of 2000 worked together on their themes, “Honor the Past” for 1999 and “Imagine the Future” for 2000. Presidents Phipps and Nichols designed their pins so that the 1999 pin reflected the Riverfront Park Carousel – with the 2000 pin reflecting fireworks and a New Millennium designed to be worn above the 1999 pin. With the completion of Mt. Spokane High School in the Mead School District the Royal Court grew to 13. The 1999 Queen was Casey Carlson of Ferris High School with the year 2000 Queen Jillian Cerna of Central Valley High School. Attending our Festival in 1999 – serving as Honorary Grand Marshal was Kenneth H. Burrows President of the 2000 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. Major General Frank Scoggins United States Army – Washington State Reserves Commander, served as our Grand Marshal.
The Year 2000 Imagine the Future Festival Grand Marshal was Lt. General Walter S. Hogle Jr., Commander, 15th Air Force, Travis Air Force Base, California. Rising costs of the rented office space on Mission Street saw the Festival relocate to its present location 3021 S. Regal thanks to Wells Fargo for it subsidizing of monthly rental expenses. The year 2001 Theme “Soaring with Spokane” featured one of the most popular and most successful pin sale campaigns ever. Pins sales exceeded 16,000 after an aggressive public relations campaign “it’s your parade” aired extensively on all radio and television stations. President Denny Kane and Queen Natalya Litoshyk welcomed 170,000 spectators to downtown Spokane. The “Soaring with Spokane” float featured a huge American Eagle with wings moving up and down as if in flight. Also introduced to the Festival in 2001 was a commemorative “Soaring with Spokane” coin. The year 2001 was also the first year the KXLY Broadcast Group televised the Lilac Festival as a result of five year contract. Although no longer televised live – the parade is rebroadcast within a week of the actual event day. 2001 saw “Spring in Spokane” a two day event of arts and crafts and performers in Riverfront Park.
Serving as Grand Marshal was Major General Jack A. Davis, Commanding General, 4th Marine Division. Honorary Grand Marshal was Hugh O’Brian – known to many as television’s Wyatt Earp. Mr. O’Brian is the CEO and Founder of HOBY – the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership organization.
September 11, 2001 brought changes to the Festival and to the World. That date was scheduled to be the Annual Installation Banquet for the Year 2002 President Sandi Bentz – the annual dinner was postponed to September 18. September 11, 9-11 brought the destruction of the World Trade Centers in New York City. A crushing blow to the economy and the hearts of all Americans – the Spokane Lilac Festival in partnership with a number of civic and community organizations and Fairchild Air Force Base spearheaded Operation Spokane Heroes. The grass roots community based initiative brought attention to the men and women heroes of September 11 – civilians, police, firefighters and our US military. Intended to honor the every day hero – President Bentz changed her pin design to reflect not only the “Spirit of Spokane” – as evidenced by the “Red Wagon” in Riverfront Park, but the Spirit of America with the placing of the American Flag and Lilacs into the themed pin design. Queen Emily Leva of Ferris High School emulated the spark and energy of youth as the 2002 Lilac Festival Queen. Under the leadership of President Bentz the Royalty Task Group was convened to review the current Royalty Program and make suggestions to the membership. The 2002 Coronation was held at the recently renovated Rogers High School. The annual Variety Show held at the Met Theater was held for the last time in 2002. Once again “Spring in Spokane” was celebrated in downtown Spokane. The First Annual (and only) Lilac Festival Duathlon was remarkably successful. Held at Fort Wright – the three mile run, 17 mile bike ride and ending with another 3 mile run brought over 140 participants together. Serving as Honorary Grand Marshal – Spokane’s Own – Queen of Green – Phyllis Stephens learned the “wave” and delighted the crowd Parade night. On a more somber note – the Festival welcomed a New York City Fireman and two New York City Policemen who worked at the recovery efforts at the World Trade Centers for six weeks following the September 11 attacks. Operation Spokane Heroes went on to receive national recognition as the recipient of the Zachary Fischer Award by the United States Air Force, recognizing the humanitarian efforts of a civilian community to honor a military community.
Grand Marshal for the Year 2002 Armed Forces Torchlight Parade was Major General Arthur J. Lichte, Director of Plans and Programs Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
“Moments Remembered” the 2003 theme of President Mike Noyes was the end of an era for the Festival. Queen Joanna Repsold of Ferris High School was the last girl to be selected to represent her school. Royalty changes for 2004 were voted upon during the Year 2003. The Festival themed pin – featuring the renovation of the Monroe Street Bridge, the Spokane Falls and lilacs sold well. Under the leadership of President Noyes – the Festival placed itself through a strategic planning process – reviewing its mission – its strengths and its weaknesses. The Festival adopted a new mission statement; “To Showcase and Celebrate Spokane and The Inland Northwest Community”. To accomplish the mission statement four goals were adopted; “To promote the Spokane Area, To Recognize Outstanding Area Youth, To Honor Local Military Personnel and, To Foster Goodwill with Northwest Communities. Additionally Values were adopted: Respect – for all directors, staff, volunteers, people of other cultures, people with physical/mental limitations. And equally important, respect for ideas, perspectives, new approaches that will support the Festival’s goals. Teamwork between directors, staff, volunteers, city and county officials, armed services personnel, educators and other festivals and community events. Stewardship of all resources; contributed funds, time, materials and city property. Integrity in operational and fiscal management in marketing/pr, fundraising and in interactions with other organizations. Exemplary, professional conduct as representatives of the Festival, other organizations, our community and as examples to the young people participating in our various activities. Collaboration with other organizations or entities having similar shared goals of making Spokane an exceptional place to live as well as promoting its attributes.
Also through the Strategic Planning process it was determined to add another layer to leadership – specifically the addition of the elected position of First Vice President. The First Vice President would move to the position of President elect and on to the position of President over a three year period. Committed to the Strategic Planning process the First Vice President is accountable on an annual basis to review the long range plans and needs of the festival and convene the Strategic Planning Committee as necessary.
The Year 2004 – “Celebrate Spokane” under the guidance of President Denise Vickerman saw major changes. No longer was the Princess Selection in place since 1958 used. Rather the selection process was opened to all 28 area high schools, home schoolers as well as Running Start high school senior girls within the County of Spokane. The Royal Court was reduced in size from 13 to seven. Preliminary selections narrowing the field of candidates to 14 occurred in November, 2003 with the Queen’s Coronation being held in the Spokane Opera House the last Sunday of January, 2004. The seven candidates not selected to the Royal Court served the Festival as Ambassadors. Certainly a new generation of Royalty – represented by Queen Jenna Johnson has brought a redefined and viable contemporary program to Spokane. New in 2004 with the “Cruises at the Falls” Classic Car Show in Downtown Spokane on Parade Day. Over 120 Classic cars were displayed. The Grand Marshal of the Parade was 3 Star Major General William Essex and his wife Nancy, proudly representing the United States Air Force. The Year 2004 Parade featured a grand finale of fireworks cascading over the Spokane Falls at the conclusion of the Parade. Staying vibrant and contemporary in a world of change for over 67 years is an underlying theme of the Festival as pointed out in 1947 by then President Edward Hughes. Mr. Hughes was committed to demonstrating exceptional volunteer leadership and organizational ability. He was skilled at bringing together individuals and groups capable of making the Festival and outstanding civic event. The Spokane Lilac Festival remains the premier heritage event and largest form of free family oriented entertainment in the Inland Northwest.
“Lilac Magic” was the theme for the Year 2005 chosen by President Catherine Tunstall, with both the pin and the float dipicting our wonderful Looff Carousel that is the focal point of Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. And a magical year it was, as the Spokane Lilac Festival honored the troops who were newly returned from the war in Iraq, with bands, marching military units, a tank and a big gun, and of course – Carousel Horses. 2005 was the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam Conflict, so we were proud to pay special tribute to the veterans of both those wars. Our Grand Marshall was US Army Major General Dennis Hardy and his wife Diane, he is a “local boy” having graduated from Rogers High School and Gonzaga University, General Hardy was a hit everywhere he appeared, especially on parade night. We had a wonderful court of seven headed up by Queen Jamie Pacello from Shadle Park High School. 2005 brought other changes to the Lilac Festival with the addition of Ken Briggs as our Executive Director. All in all it was a wonderful year, full of positive changes and forward motion for the Spokane Lilac Festival Association.
President Russ Brown, a retired educator, chose the theme of “Kids are the Key…” for 2006, and kids were the focus along with honoring the military of our area. The Grand Marshall for all of the festivities was U S Army Brigadier General (Ret) Neal Sealock, who is also the CEO of the Spokane International Airport, and a graduate of Medical Lake High School. Queen Zanie McMillan from North Central High, led her court of six princesses in our first ever “Sand in the City” sand sculpting contest in July in downtown Spokane, it was a rousing success and will become one of our premier events in the future. Kids were the Key for this year, as we celebrated the youth of our communities as a focus of every event of the year, which included the annual honoring of the Teachers of the Year from the high schools each Lilac Princess attends.
In the year of 2007 Sandy Brown was President. This was the first year that we didn’t have any paid staff in the Lilac Office. We still have, to date, volunteers who run the office. We take turns volunteering our duties to keep the Festival alive and well. Sandy picked “Here’s to the Heroes” as her theme. Her business “Wandermere Golf Course sponsored the pin. This years pin had her name on the back and her sponsor. Her Queen was Wylie Patton. The princesses were Kali Clark, Rachel Hart, Jasmine Williams, Margeaux Fox, Alyssa Henke, and Alexandra Steirwalt. This year Sandy picked five Grand Marshalls: Lieutenant Colonel (Chaplain) Jeffrey Neuberger, First Lieutenant Catherine Christ, Technical Sergeant Jacky McClain, Sergeant Juan Hernandez and Senior Airman Cindy Phillips. Her float had three big circles and a large circle in the back,which turned, held Queen Wylie. The other princesses filled in around the other circles. This was the first year for the court retreat to Priest Lake home of Russ and Leanne Brown. The girls and chaperones were there for the weekend bonding and becoming great friends. A large effort was undertaken to raise money to keep the festival alive and well for many years to come.