By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
In 1960, Connie Struck was a young wife and mother, busy with activities.
Among her activities was membership in a four-year-old womens organization, Delta Epsilon.
Forty-one years later, Struck is still in Delta Epsilon and laughs heartily as she studies a black-and-white photo from about 1963.
In the photo, Struck is sitting sideways on a float, posed a la Jackie Kennedy in a sleeveless dress with Gail McKinnis, Ernestine Simonis, another woman and their daughters.
The float, covered in tufted crepe paper, features the sign, E.S.A. Today and Tomorrow.
I think my daughter was about 8, Struck says, studying the photo. Shes 45 now.
The photo is of one of the first Union County Fair parades organized by Delta Epsilon and the float was usually at the end of the parade, a closing comment on the annual parade.
Delta Epsilon used to announce the annual parade along with short newspaper stories about their work in the community.
The work continues. The parade continues. But the parade sponsors have moved out of the limelight in recent years.
The Delta Epsilon sorority decided earlier this year that they wished to recognize the 41 years of continuous work on the parade that Struck and Valdene Goold, both of La Grande the only two remaining founding members have put in.
But Goold and Struck wouldnt do it alone. They credit, they felt, had to be shared.
So this year, as a new millennium gets under way, the women who have been organizing the parade for more than four decades are giving each other a boost and will serve as the grand marshals.
At a recent meeting, they laugh a bit nervously, trying to figure out how to make sure everything goes as planned when they are riding at the front of the parade.
As long as they have done this, though, it shouldnt be a huge problem just another wrinkle.
Now only 11 members strong, the sorority has normally chosen the grand marshals of the parade based on community service, work with the county fair, contributions to young people and involvement in 4-H or FFA.
Recent parade grand marshals have been Sherry Nantz of Imbler last year and Roy Hamilton, the retiring 4-H agent, the year before.
The first grand marshal was Ike Whitely and his beautiful horse, Struck recalls.
Another memorable year was when an elderly member of the community was grand marshal, and the care center where he lived gave strict instructions to the women about how long he could be in the sun, and what he needed for his care.
The sorority isnt talking about ending their parade organization and sponsorship anytime soon. They would like a few new members, though, as the number of duties involved in organizing a parade and keeping up the groups other activities is an increasing burden.
From the few, county-fair-focused units in those early years, the parade has grown to an average of 70 entries, from 4-H livestock clubs, business floats, fire engines and rodeo courts. It takes finesse, a sense of humor, and plenty of coordination to move that many people and animal through La Grande on a Friday afternoon.
Gay Zander and Kylene Huffman rattle off the list of duties: someone is responsible for getting the city and state highway department parade permits, and arranging to get the streets blocked off. Theres publicity needed to get parade entries, transportation for the grand marshal, judges to find and instruct, parade categories to arrange and many, many more tasks.
There are the unanticipated disasters.
Struck remembers a year when it rained and rained.
A beautiful float was entered in the parade and started out on its stately roll. But by the end of the parade, Struck remembers, the float was basically gone, destroyed by the rain. I watched it melt.
The Union County Fair parade is a major fund raising event for the sorority. Delta Epsilon is paid by the Union County Fair Board to take charge of the parade and uses the funds to support its three-fold educational, philanthropic and social mission. It is a non-academic and non-profit group with 31 chapters in Oregon.
The local chapter donates to the Blue Mountain Safe Center, the Salvation Army Food Bank, CASA, the Elgin Food Bank, Blue Mountain Special Olympics, Meadowood Speech Camp, Habitat for Humanity and a half dozen other local, regional and national charities.
The women have also chosen to make sure that local families have had a Christmas, and women suffering from cancer have gotten help.
The current members of the sorority are president Valdene Goold, Struck, Bunnie Barrett, Claire Eckrich, Huffman, Jo Kellar, Judy Loudermilk, Susy Marshall, Mary Ellen Taal, Susan Wagoner and Zander.
Union County Fair Parade:
Parade starts at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 along Adams Avenue, an hour later than is recent years.