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Holiday parade to feature dozens of entries

Mix in floats, bands, old cars, politicians, Santa Claus, Elvis, fire engines, horses and storybook characters and that will mostly cover the main attractions for Saturday's traditional Christmas parade in downtown Merced.

The 3 p.m. parade running along West Main Street from G to O streets will feature about 70 entries and should last about 90 minutes, said Denise Rossi, member of the 15-person committee staging the holiday processional downtown.

Called "A Storybook Christmas," this Saturday's parade marks the 13th time it has been hosted by the Merced Downtown Association and Century 21 Salvadori Realty. Parade sponsors are Joseph Gallo Farms, the Merced Sun-Star and Radio Merced.

Rossi said there is considerable work involved throughout the year putting the parade on but it's all worth it when one sees the looks on people's faces. She said the parade gets bigger each year and several thousand spectators are expected to line Main Street.

Lori Gallo, Rossi's sister, said three generations of Mercedians have been involved in the parade. Her mother, the late Susie Rossi, was the downtown association's special events director, and helped revive the parade after an absence of about 25 years. It is believed parades were staged in Merced in the early 1900s but information about early events is sketchy.

In Susie Rossi's honor, the parade always begins with her pink and white Metropolitan sports car, decked out this year like a toy car with a windup key.

"She (Susie Rossi) loved downtown and that parade," Gallo said.

Gallo said competition among float entries will be keen this year, with a $750 prize for first prize and $500 and $250 prizes for second and third place finishers.

"It's going to be a healthy and happy parade with a few surprises. The floats will be very competitive this year," she said. Seven marching bands are expected, Boys and Girls Club members will be dressed as storybook characters and 30 to 40 volunteers from UC Merced also will lend a hand Saturday.

Parade committee volunteer Mike Waite said every year something is added to the parade, which naturally belongs downtown. The parade couldn't be staged without the cooperation of Merced's police officers and firefighters.

The parade's grand marshals are Special Olympics gold medalist Mark Heffner and his father, Wayne, and Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II and his staff.

Five different announcing positions will be staffed by local disc jockeys, at Martin Luther King Jr. Way, K Street, Bob Hart Square, M and N streets.

"We do it for the kids and kids at heart," Gallo said. "I love it's becoming a tradition and look forward to it every year. We start working on next year's right after it's finished."

Immediately after the parade, a community Christmas tree lighting ceremony will be held in Bob Hart Square, followed by hot chocolate and cookies. A 24-foot tree donated by Merco Credit Union will grace the square over the Christmas holidays.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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