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Photo by Alex Anderson | Marching Lumberjacks Axe Major Sammie Malcolm, leads the formation down H St. for Eureka's Rhododendron Parade.

Hometown heroes celebrated in Rhododendron Parade


by Andres Felix Romero

Originally printed May 5, 2023

Crowded together on all sides of Henderson and C street sidewalks in Eureka, local Humboldt residents excitedly waited for the 2023 Rhododendron Parade to commence. When the clock struck 10:00 AM, the Eureka branch of the fraternal organization Native Sons of the Golden West presented the American flag for the National Anthem, sung by Taylee Mullins on the announcers’ stage. Following the presentation, 62 different organizations in the local area paraded through the streets of Eureka beginning at 7th and E streets. 

The annual community gathering was held on Saturday, April 29, and was organized by various organizations from Humboldt County, primarily the Old Town Eureka Rotary Club. They’ve been involved with the Rhododendron Parade for at least 30 years, and have been the primary organizers of the annual celebration for the past decade. Old Town Rotary Club President Amanda Moxon takes pride in her organization’s involvement with the community event, especially bringing back the Parade post-COVID.

“Last year was the first year [after the pandemic],” Moxon said. “We’re getting back to our pre-COVID activity. It’s just so good to see everybody out and volunteering their time to make [the parade] happen.”

The Grand Marshal of the parade is a notable person who rides in an open car in the front of the parade to honor them. This year’s Grand Marshall was owner of Shafer’s Ace Hardware, Jack Reike, along with his wife Michele Reike.

“I’m super proud of my husband,” Michele Reike said while preparing for the parade to begin. “We’re excited to be here and involved in this longtime community event.”

The Reikes led the parade in their crimson red 2013 60th Anniversary Corvette along with their grandchildren tossing toys to the crowd. When asked about how he became Grand Marshal, Reike remained humble.

“Just years of helping out in the community,” Jack Reike said, smiling at his Corvette. “I really appreciate [Rotary] asking me.”

The Reike’s appointment to Grand Marshal follows the Rhododendron Parade’s 2023 theme of Hometown Heroes, celebrating individuals like the Reikes who have spent years in service to the community. There were a plethora of other people participating in the parade that supported the communities. Organizations ranging from the children’s service group the Shriner’s to emergency responders such as emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

Paige Hannemann is an EMT with City Ambulance of Eureka. She along with her team were ecstatic to interact with the Humboldt community in a positive way.

“We’re excited to see the community in a better light than we normally do,” Hannemann said. “We see people in the worst days of their lives. It’s nice to see them on their good days and when they’re happy.”

Other local heroes were present that provide sanctuary to those in need for those who walk on more than two feet such as Sequoia Humane Society, a no-kill shelter. They were being led in part by Tracy Lizento, a volunteer present with her own rescue, 16 year-old precious. Lizento was happy to be at the parade to represent pets in need, and to educate the community on proper care.

“We’re excited to be here and to show our animals,” Lizento said. And to let everyone know they need to neuter their pets.“

There was no shortage of the variety of methods the parade participants used to mobilize themselves throughout the Eureka streets. There were riders in horse-drawn carriages, motorized trolleys, an appearance by Smokey the Bear in a Forestry truck, a variety of vintage vehicles including VW Buses, and of course the classic method of human transportation was reserved for the marching bands, walking. 

The Rhododendron Parade also marks the final performance of the semester for the Cal Poly Humboldt’s marching band, The Marching Lumberjacks. Brand new band member Sammie Malcom led the Marching Lumberjacks as their Axe Major.

“This is my first year,” Malcolm said while reflecting before the parade. “Now I’m leading it which is pretty crazy.”

General Manager Chris Perez was proud to continue the Marching Lumberjack’s participation in the parade following the University’s transition to Cal Poly Humboldt and to serve an important role in the celebration.

“It’s been tradition,” Perez said. “ We’ve been doing this since we were Humboldt State. [Marching Lumberjacks] gets the last position of the parade because we’re the anchor”

Mellophone player Michael Caban enjoyed being able to play one last time with graduating seniors, and having his last performance of the year be with an interactive crowd and great bandmates. 

“It’s always fun performing with the Lumberjacks,” Caban said. “And this wasn’t the exception. We’re an energetic group.”

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