KEARNEY — The Jesse James Festival parade will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, in downtown Kearney.
This year’s parade will honor Bulldog pride, celebrating the school district and all-things Kearney. Attendees are encourages to don the school district colors of purple and yellow/gold.
Parade theme & route
“We really want people to come out, have a good time and show that purple and gold pride along the parade route,” said Julie Hedges of the festival planning committee and its board. “It’s been a long year with everything with COVID and we are just glad to be back and have the festival again (after a year hiatus due to the pandemic). Everyone has gone through a lot, so we just want to show that pride for our kids and our families.”
While the parade brings family fun for the masses, people should be prepared for traffic and street closures.
The parade begins near the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on West Washington Street, and follows the same route it has for years. It will go south on Clark from Washington to Third Street. From there, the parade will go east to Missouri Highway 33. Once on Highway 33, it will go south to Fifth Street, east to Prospect Street and then north on Prospect back to Washington.
Street closures will begin around 8 a.m. and no parking will be allowed along the route after that time. Because of street closures and a large amount of people traveling to downtown for the parade, parking will become scarce. Parking may be available in lots at Old Church Plaza, located off Jefferson Street, to those who arrive early.
Those living on the north side of Kearney may want find an alternate route to reach Interstate 35 during the parade. Roads inside city limits should be back open as soon as the parade is finished, which typically is around noon.
This year’s parade marshal is Kearney resident, businessman and philanthropist Keith Doss.
“He’s a longtime Kearney guy that has done a whole lot for the Kearney community,” said Hedges.
Doss is chairman of the board at Kearney Trust Co., has worked at the bank for five decades and has served for years volunteering with the festival and in leadership positions with the chamber of commerce.
“It was a very nice honor to be named the parade marshal. There are a lot of people who work really hard over the years with volunteering their time or their money to promote the festival. To be chosen form all of them is an honor,” he said.
Celebrating 50 years of service
This year’s festival also marks five decades of the festival (after last year’s was canceled), which is entirely the work of volunteers that make up the festival committee. The committee is its own charitable organization that uses funds generated at each year’s festival and donations that includes volunteer hours to put the festival on each year.
Dan Colt, chair of the festival committee, said many in the surrounding community do not realize the Jesse James Festival is unique in that it is not funded by the city or chamber of commerce as in other cities.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but a great accomplishment,” said Colt. “We typically start each year in January by going to a convention to learn about the new vendors, attractions available and things like that. Then we start doing meetings with the festival committee in about August for the rest of it.”
Dozens of people give of their time, money and energy each year to put on the festival.
“We average about 35 committee members each year and about 20 volunteers,” said Colt. Hedges and her family, which includes Jay, Ethan and Heath Hedges, have been mainstays on the committee’s board. Other board members include Terry Carter and Junior Board Members Austin and Dixie Thomas.
Doss, who served as a committee chair when the festival first starting doing a rodeo decades ago, said it takes an “enormous” amount of work to the put the festival on and the community should appreciate the volunteers who bring such a wonderful event that spans two weekends to Kearney.
“Festivals and big things like that just don’t happen. They are the product of a lot of hard work and dedication by a lot of people,” he said.
For years, Doss said the festival served as many visitors’ first glimpse of Kearney.
“Then, the next thing you know, they were buying houses and moving here because they saw how wonderful it was,” he said.
“We are really looking forward to this year as we didn’t have a festival last year. We’ve added some new and exciting events and shows that we are excited for people to see,” said Colt.