For a chance to see Neverland and Paul Bunyan up close, the city of Hermiston turned out in droves.

When the Umatilla County Fair Parade began Saturday evening, the sidewalks were packed as a bevy of floats representing local businesses, school groups and service clubs glided around Hermiston, tossing candy to eager kids.

Floats ranged from elaborate — a Peter Pan themed float built on a street sweeper, from Connell, Washington — to traditional, with groups of people on horseback, pickup flatbeds, or on foot.

For many, the parade was about pride in their city and in their group.

“We’re the 2017 business of the year,” said Maria Garavito of Atkinson Staffing, referring to the Hermiston Distinguished Citizen’s Award. “We feel proud of our workers, so this is for them.”

The Tillamook float had people from all aspects of their company on board, including employees’ families.

“Everybody from the plant manager to people that do sanitation,” Gonzalo Rodriguez, Tillamook’s safety manager, said.

While many groups handed out candy, some stayed on theme with their businesses. Tillamook handed out individual cheese packets and wooden ice cream spoons. Walchli Farms handed out watermelons, off the back of a vehicle carrying an enormous inflatable slice of their signature fruit.

“We wanted to show some pride in the product,” he said.

Some people reversed roles — Manuel Velasco of Templo Abarim was handing out popsicles and water to parade participants as the parade passed by the church, on Seventh Street.

Church members are usually in the parade, but this year they didn’t have a vehicle.

“We still wanted to be a part of it,” said Doria Velasco.

On the sidelines, some people watched for their favorite floats, while others wanted to be surprised.

“I’m looking for something new,” said Saul Chairez, who was watching the parade with family on Highland, across from Hermiston High School.

Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann rode in one of several trucks representing the city of Hermiston.

“I dialed in some better weather,” Drotzmann said.

He said he was pleased with the variety of parade entries, and liked some of the new features this year, like the fair kickoff party on Main Street, and using the old fairgrounds as a gathering area for the floats.

State Rep. Greg Smith and his wife Sherri were this year’s grand marshals.

They’re Morrow County residents, but the Smiths said they attend the parade and fair every year.

Smith said his favorite float, other than a huge Paul Bunyan and Babe from Ranch and Home, were the local Future Farmers of America floats.

“That’s what the fair is all about, families, kids and community,” he said.

Though the parade drew people from neighboring counties and Washington, one spectator changed time zones to be there.

“We traveled 2,852 miles,” said Karen Flabetich. She and her daughter, Sarah, live in Maui. Flabetich grew up in Hermiston, and came back to visit her relatives.

“But we wanted to come so my daughter could see the fair,” she said.

She recalled riding her bicycle in the fair parade with her neighbors when she was young, and winning an award for their costumes.

The parade kicks off the Umatilla County Fair, which starts Tuesday, August 7 at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center, at 1705 E. Airport Road.

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Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com

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