Heather McIntyre and Hollie Guldner watched the Festival of Trees Holiday Parade from McIntyre’s couch last year. They said unseasonably cold temperatures kept them at home in front of the television.
This year, the pair rounded up McIntyre’s children as well as some nieces and nephews and watched from a much closer vantage point. Although temperatures Saturday morning had climbed into the 40s by the time the parade began, they still couldn’t resist the heated comfort of the skybridge — as well as a bird’s eye view of the procession, which made its way down River Drive flanked by thousands of onlookers.
“Mom, look! Mom, look at that!” squealed McIntyre’s daughter, 3-year-old Kennedi, as the parade got under way.
“She’s excited because those girls have pom-poms,” McIntyre said. “She loves to dance.”
The dancers were just the start of it as dozens of children belonging to the 100 or so people who gathered on the skybridge pressed their noses against the glass, gasping and pointing excitedly at all that went by.
“This is a good little place to be,” McIntyre said as the massive balloons made their way down River Drive. The children erupted in laughter when a balloon of Buddy Holly — by far the largest balloon in the parade — did a twirl before its handlers pulled back so the massive bag of hot air could clear the skybridge.
As the balloons went by, the glass facade of the Figge reflected their images, making the show even grander.
Only 18 hours earlier the balloons arrived at Modern Woodmen Park, where a couple dozen Quad-City volunteers were on-hand to help the balloon company, Starbound Entertainment, bring the giants to life.
Dezi Cruz, Starbound’s balloon manager, said his crew of about 20 relies on the community’s support to make preparations go smoother.
“It’s a lot of work that you never understand unless you’re behind the scenes,” he said. “This is my fifth year coming here. I love coming to the Quad-Cities. The people are so nice.”
Chris Fonner, who is Festival of Tree’s balloon co-chair with Sarah Lack, is no stranger to the work, having served as chair the past three years.
“I’ve never seen a parade,” said Fonner, who is too busy on parade day troubleshooting to enjoy the sights.
Among the helpers on Friday night were an over-40 single’s club and members of Cub Scout Pack 109 from Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Moline. The boys, mostly third-graders, hauled sandbags across the parking lot to hold down the balloons and untied the ropes before the balloons were filled with helium. The first balloons to take shape were Bob the Builder and Curious George.
“It was hard carrying the sandbags,” said Isaac Martinez, 9, of Moline, who could not wait to see his handiwork at Saturday’s parade.
“It was fun to watch them blow up,” said 8-year-old Brian Pettett, of East Moline, who was surprised by how big the balloons are close up.
One balloon, “Hometown Hero,” was new this year. The balloon depicted an American soldier. Erin Lounsberry, who is on the parade’s steering committee, said the son of another steering committee member served as a model for the balloon. The man, who is in the military, wishes to remain anonymous, she said.
The parade — the Quad-Cities’ largest all year — had 66 entries, including 18 balloons. Marching bands from all three of Davenport’s public high schools, as well as Bettendorf High School and Durant High School, banged out Christmas carols on their drums.
“The weather turned out just great,” said Carolyn Ontiveros of Davenport. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Children went “ooh” and “ah” as a group of men and women on old-fashioned bicycles rode past. One man on a bike with an oversized front wheel rode with no hands, impressing the kids.
Jami Sherman of Bettendorf said the parade always puts her in the holiday spirit.
“I’m a holiday girl,” she said. “Christmas is my time, and the parade kicks off the season.”
(Jennifer DeWitt contributed to this report.)