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MISSION—As the 76th Texas Citrus Fiesta concludes its two weeks of activities, the highlight of the Fiesta – and the one that draws the biggest crowds – is always the Parade of Oranges. Although the parade is beautiful, colorful and fun, it’s competitive as well.
One of the main competitions is float-building, with several different categories: Valley product, church, school, commercial, general and Winter Texan.
The prize money is nice, but that’s not the reason most folks get involved. It’s more about carrying on the hometown tradition.
While all the floats are important and represent many hours of planning, building and decorating, the premier competition – and the most difficult – is the category where competitors use Valley agricultural products. They must cover at least 75 percent of the float in citrus or any product grown in the Valley.
Judges look for workmanship, adherence to theme (Kaleidoscope of World Cultures this year), originality and the use of Valley product.
There are two returning competitors in this category: Split Rail RV Park and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Both groups have a long history and enjoyment with the parade that keeps their passion running deep.
Split Rail RV Park
Split Rail RV Park has participated in the parade for over 10 years. Park resident Les Wahl is spearheading the float project this year and says the park enjoys the hard work the parade brings to their community.
“Just the interaction of the folks here in the park when we get together to work it is fun,” Wahl said.
He explained six to eight residents work in shifts on the float throughout the day and night, spending a minimum of 100 hours per week. They have approximately two weeks to create the float after learning the theme. This year their float will represent the culture of Hawaii.
Working on a schedule to make sure the fruit doesn’t wither, the group will use around 600 pounds of Valley-grown product. On Tuesday, they were slicing and drying lemons, oranges and grapefruits. Painted corn husks were already laid out to dry.
Helping with paint and drying fruits were park residents Jan Malmstowm and Juanita Hennessey. Malmstowm explained she has been with the park for 15 years, while this winter is Hennessey’s first stay in the area.
“I love it…it keeps you busy. It’s going to be fantastic to see it all come together.” Hennessey said.
Wahl stated in the previous years the park has placed first and second in the category, but says they are in it for the fun and feels the friendly competition.
“It’s something good for Mission,” Wahl said. “We like the competition…(it) makes it more colorful. Go big or go home.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church
Ben Lopez, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, said their group has been a part of the Fiesta for nearly 20 years and explained the group is using everything from soybeans, mesquite tree and orange peels to vegetables, seeds and corn.
“We work as a family…it’s not easy; it is a lot of hard work,” Lopez said. “We are also thankful for Father Roy.”
Rev. Roy Snipes, OMI, said he has participated in the Parade of Oranges on horseback since 1992 and feels that discussing new ideas of decorations each year is one of the best parts of the competition.
“It’s an effort that our theme connects to the parade theme and shows the message of the church,” Snipes said.
David Moreno handles the structure and woodwork of the float and has over 10 years working with the event. While the foundation is laid, Ben Cavazos explained there is also animation on the floats each year that his son helps design.
“There are so many loose ends…first you have to build it, and Ben (Lopez) plans everything,” Cavazos said. “My son, Oscar, attended a university for engineering so he constructs the animation part of the float.”
The church’s past entries are known for performing mariachis and having a large presentation.
Placing fruit on a large float takes countless pounds of product, time and assistance. Lopez said applying the fruit is a 12-hour process that begins at 3:30 p.m. on Friday and ends early Saturday morning.
“Since you are using fresh fruit, we have to put it all on Friday night,” Cavazos said. “It can never be done earlier than that.”
With an eye to future participation, Snipes said, “We dread the day we will be too old for this, but it isn’t coming any time soon.”
The Parade of Oranges is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., Saturday, and starts at Griffin Parkway (FM 495) proceeding south on Conway Avenue to 4th Street.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.