For me and many Louisvillians, the Pegasus Parade is a time of intense nostalgia. Thunder Over Louisville may be the kickoff for the Kentucky Derby Festival, but the annual Pegasus Parade is when the Derby anticipation and fervor begins to reach its zenith. In fact, as the Festivalâ€™s first and oldest event, many Louisville schools and businesses have long-standing traditions of closing early to accommodate the throngs of Parade attendees. Held each year on the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby, the Pegasus Parade showcases the community at its best.
Beginning in 1956, the first Pegasus Parade operated with only four volunteers and a budget of $640 but was nonetheless filled to the brim with entertainment. Now one of the Festivalâ€™s largest spectator events, the Parade has a tremendous impact on the economy as it generates $14 million in economic activity annually. More than 500 volunteers help staff the two-hour production that includes an average of 2,500 participants each year, attracting crowds in excess of 200,000 along the 1.7-mile route. Additionally, the event has been broadcast live locally on NBC affiliate WAVE 3 TV since 1982. The local broadcast brings the Parade an additional 200,000 viewers annually and is re-broadcast on Derby Day.
My family owns a building on Broadway, the street on which the Parade annually marches, and I have distinct memories of my grandfather setting up seats and snacks in front of his property so that we could enjoy the festivities with some of the best seats in town. With this vantage point, I was afforded the opportunity to take in the larger-than-life floats, many of which are built by the employees or volunteers of the sponsoring groups. Some of the nationâ€™s best high school bands fill the street with lively music, and beautiful equestrian units add more color and excitement.
Michael Sadofsky is the senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Republic Bank, in addition to being a sponsor representative for the Parade and KDF board member. Consequently, his depth of knowledge regarding the Parade is profound: â€œRepublic Bank has been proud to be the Parade sponsor for the past 15 years, and Iâ€™ve been fortunate enough to be the sponsor representative for the entire time. My personal involvement is as a member of the management team, meeting from October through May to help shape each yearâ€™s Parade. Over the years, Iâ€™ve seen the Parade grow to now just over 100 units. More groups want to be in our Parade, helping us to dramatically improve the quality of the Parade and its entertainment value.â€
Nothing quite spearheads the entertainment value in a given parade like the grand marshal, and the KDF has been fortunate in the past to feature the Pegasus Parade with some great ones. Some previous examples over the years have included such Hollywood figures such as John Wayne, Michael Landon, Lorne Greene and William Shatner. Renowned entertainers like Carol Channing, Liberace, Gladys Knight and Loretta Lynn have graced the route as well, as have hometown heroes such as Muhammad Ali and Colonel Harland Sanders. Perhaps one of the more inspiring and patriotic examples was the moving inclusion of General Norman Schwarzkopf in his first public appearance in the U.S. at the conclusion of the Gulf War.
â€œIn terms of grand marshals, I guess Iâ€™d have to say itâ€™s been any of the years that weâ€™ve been able to celebrate the success of a local sports team from Valley Sports Little League championship, Bellarmine Universityâ€™s NCAA Division II, to UofL menâ€™s and womenâ€™s basketball teams,â€ Sadofsky reminisces. â€œThis year, we have an exciting grand marshal line-up.â€ Not only will the Parade celebrate Kentuckyâ€™s own Jordan Smithâ€™s victory on season nine of â€œThe Voice,â€ but attendees may recognize Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, two of UofLâ€™s outstanding menâ€™s basketball players, in their roles as honorary grand marshals. â€œAnd donâ€™t be surprised if you see a little Stars Wars at this yearâ€™s Parade too,â€ adds Sadofsky.
Every year, the local and famous personalities that make up the parade keep the event colorful and fun. However vibrant their addition may be, it cannot hold a candle to the joy evident in each and every parade-goerâ€™s face. It is this spirit that has fueled and will continue to fuel the parade for years to come.
According to Sadofsky, the grins indeed tell the story best: â€œMy favorite moment occurs every year. Itâ€™s the moment we take Peggy Bank on to Broadway to the delight of the crowd and watch the childrenâ€™s reactions as we go down Broadway.â€
The 2016 Pegasus Parade will march down Broadway on Thursday, May 5, starting at 5 p.m. VT