Reborn Bend Water Pageant floats gracefully into view

Lots of great things fade from view over time — but they all aren’t necessarily gone forever. Witness the past week’s return of a 30-year summer tradition that vanished 35 years ago – the Bend Water Pageant.

Hundreds of residents have taken part in or observed a wide variety of events, from an English tea and historic fashion show to a downtown Wild West shootout, an ice cream social and the biggest event of all — literally — the debut of a 20-foot-tall, 30-foot-long, 3-ton swan floating gracefully upon Mirror Pond, to the cheers of onlookers and the curiosity of its smaller feathered friends.

The attendance has been fairly light at some events, but Ethel Stratton, who led an army of volunteers that brought the pageant back to life, seemed happy with the results Friday as she busily prepared for a junior-senior intergenerational prom and Saturday’s final events: soapbox-style “gravity drag” races, an afternoon social at the Pine Tavern and the grand finale, a music and light show as the swan floats across Mirror Pond, carrying a bevy of past pageant queens and princesses. (Fire danger has prompted a scrubbing of a planned fireworks show.)

“It’s doing just what we hoped,” Stratton said of the event. “It’s gathering the community together.”

Blindfolds kept swan building site ‘secret’

A pair of reporters were briefly blindfolded a couple of weeks ago – more as a gesture, since the clues were obvious – as they were led into a large east Bend shop where the biggest single rebirth of the entire week-long event, the big swan, was being built by dozens of volunteers, young and old.

The first “River Pageant” was held in 1933, as a few University of Oregon graduates returned to their hometown and recalled Eugene’s canoe celebrations. The first pageant had a few small floats with pretty girls on them, drifting down the river as a few thousand people looked on. The very next year, the festival included 19 floats, a 48-foot-tall arch with elaborate lighting system, and over 12,000 people in attendance. By 1965, the year of the last Water Pageant, close to 20,000 residents and visitors were taking part, as local businesses and organizations designed and built floats and provided volunteers and donations.

Why did the long tradition die then? A variety of reasons, said Stratton, who has led the organizing of the revived Water Pageant as a fund-raiser for the Deschutes County Victims Assistance Foundation. The costs of the mid-’60s event were rising, and some neighbors complained of the impact on their private property (shades of the Drake Park/Munch and Music debates decades later). There also were relatively few hotel or motel rooms at the time to house the influx of visitors. But there also was another element, as Stratton has learned – “there were streakers” (years ahead of the ’70s fad) who apparently decided the big show was a good time to show off their own natural features.

The new pageant is a “first annual,” in a way. The focus is on a series of events that build a sense of community connections, Stratton said – from Monday’s ice cream social (Ben and Jerry’s, in typical fashion, donated 5,000 servings) to Tuesday’s cowboy poetry and chuckwagon BBQ, Wednesday’s “proper tea” and vintage fashion show, Friday’s junior/senior intergenerational prom and Saturday’s “gravity drag” race of kid/parent built soapbox style cars on Revere Avenue (an event not sanctioned by the Soapbox Derby this year, but that’s expected in 2001).

Swan builders race the clock

Volunteers raced the clock in hopes the floating swan would be ready to unveil Monday evening, but logistics and other issues pushed the debut back three days. A late, short shipment of foam that forms much of the swan’s shape pushed them back, but long hours were catching things up, said designer Peter Gramlich and project leader Dave Abramson, a juvenile counselor with Deschutes County’s Juvenile Justice Department.

“I think what has surprised me more than anything else are people who were saying, ‘You must be joking’ when we first hatched the idea,” Stratton said, “and now they are as enthusiastic as anyone and pitching right in.” Unlike the panoply of fund-raisers held around the year in Central Oregon, the Water Pageant is billed as a “sponsor-free” event – “we want it to be owned by the community,” Stratton said, so there’s no big banners or signs for each firm or person donating goods, services or money.

The funds are being raised in a variety of ways, from charging for the food and events to $5 brass swan pins, $12 T-shirts, $30 posters and $50 handcrafted miniature swans. An original Jennifer Lake Miller painting that combines images of the past and present Water Pageant activities will be auctioned off, as will a larger carved wooden swan and 14K gold swan pin.

The various events were detailed in the Web site at http://www.bendwaterpageant.com . The 12-member Bend Youth Council has played a key role in making several of the events happen. “It’s all exciting,” said Joan Hamby, an 18-year-old Mountain View High graduate.

The connection between this year’s pageant, wih its theme of “Rediscover the Spirit,” and the Victims Assistance Foundation isn’t hard for Stratton to espouse. “If we’re more connected to the community and to our neighbors, the impact (is that) crime is reduced,” she said. Stratton also hopes it will bring more locals to enjoy downtown shops: “It’s not just a tourist town,” she said. Former county commissioner Nancy Schlangen, director of the Victims’ Assistance Program, said “we want as many as locals as possible to participate” in the wide variety of events.

State Soapbox champ father/sons help new generation

Saturday’s events begin with the “Bend Gravity Drag” races of eight soapbox-style racers down the gentle hill on Revere Avenue between Eighth and Fourth streets. Two state-champion Soap Box Derby cars are on display at Jim Smolich Motors, thanks to brothers Matt and Brian Carlson of Bend and their dad, Ken Carlson, of Prineville. All three, along with Ken’s daughter, have been state Soap Box champions, when they lived in Boring, and all got to race in the national event at Akron, Ohio. The huge trophies up for grabs in this year’s inaugural event shine in the dealer’s display case.

“Big Brother” Richard Benson of Tumalo, a chiropractor by trade, was helping his “Little Brother,” 8-year-old Brandon Tovar, get to work on a car in the Jim Smolich service garage the other night. Another participant will be Luke Smolich, the car dealer’s 12-year-old and mechanically inclined grandson. “I’ve been around cars all my life,” the youngster said with authority, anxious to test out a car that weighs 250 pounds, rides 3 inches off the asphalt and can travel at speeds of 35 mph.

Meanwhile, out at the – well, we can’t say where – the new-generation swan took shape. In a fitting twist, Mountain View High student Ryan Moss, 15, suggested by his teacher for his computer-aided design proficiency, also found the fiberglass-reinforced composite deck and rail system used for the 10-by-20-foot base – on the Internet. “It’s http://www.ezdeck.com,” he said with a smile.

Old swan, plans gone, so started from scratch

The old swan, which the queen and princess rode on, apparently was lost in a fire and the original plans were never located, despite extensive searching. So Gramlich said he spent hours photographing swans in Drake Park before turning to a computer for creation of the detailed sketches. Everyone involved held their breath recently when the base, complete with 2,000 pounds of steel, had a test float on a private pond – and by gum, it floated, with only some minor adjustments to be made.

The task has been more daunting, and technical, than first thought, so at-risk youngsters in the “restorative justice” program weren’t involved in the early stages. They were able to help with later stages, layering the concrete polymer that will make up the 34-foot-long swan’s final surface, before painting. The head and neck are detachable, allowing the swan to make it under the 14 ½-foot railroad underpass en route to Drake Park.

One other big difference from the original swans – most were built as stage props, so they could only be viewed from one side, much like the fake storefronts of low-budget early Westerns, Abramson and Gramlich said. The young queen used to ride on the large swan, followed by princesses on smaller cygnet craft. A half-dozen of the original queens, including 84-year-old Bend native Lois May Gumpert, serve at the honorary court for this year’s revived pageant. During a music and light show, they will ride in the swan, propelled by members of the county Search and Rescue Unit’s high-water rescue team. That’s right — “swan divers.”

Abramson said that despite the lost time for fishing or relaxing, the long hours everyone is putting in were worth it. “It’s so important to the community – that’s my adrenaline rush,” he said. For welder Jeremy Lewis, it also was simple: “Its seemed like a fun thing to do.” Or as Abramson said, “It’s been a lot of fun – and a lot of headaches.”

Source: Bend.com ©2000