Tradition Marches On

Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival

Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival

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 Festival’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 Festival’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 nation’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: “Republic Bank has been proud to be the Parade sponsor for the past 15 years, and I’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 year’s Parade. Over the years, I’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.”

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.

“In terms of grand marshals, I guess I’d have to say it’s been any of the years that we’ve been able to celebrate the success of a local sports team from Valley Sports Little League championship, Bellarmine University’s NCAA Division II, to UofL men’s and women’s basketball teams,” Sadofsky reminisces. “This year, we have an exciting grand marshal line-up.” Not only will the Parade celebrate Kentucky’s own Jordan Smith’s victory on season nine of “The Voice,” but attendees may recognize Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, two of UofL’s outstanding men’s basketball players, in their roles as honorary grand marshals. “And don’t be surprised if you see a little Stars Wars at this year’s Parade too,” 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-goer’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: “My favorite moment occurs every year. It’s the moment we take Peggy Bank on to Broadway to the delight of the crowd and watch the children’s reactions as we go down Broadway.”

The 2016 Pegasus Parade will march down Broadway on Thursday, May 5, starting at 5 p.m. VT