There was a little something for everybody Saturday at The Villages Polo Fields – lots of colorfully decorated golf carts, a slew of talented resident performance groups, a bunch of fun-loving clowns and two high school bands.
There also were twirlers, cheerleaders, dog lovers, residents dressed as pink flamingos, model train lovers, a variety of veterans and plenty of first responders. Heck, there were even golf carts that resembled an Army attack helicopter and an old-time race car honoring a legend.
Welcome to the annual Villages Christmas Parade, where displaying the holiday spirit, having a great time and constantly sharing messages of “Merry Christmas” was the name of the game. The event started right at noon with Sumter County sheriff’s deputies leading the way as loud cheers erupted from the near-capacity crowd lining the path around the polo fields in chairs and golf carts.
The route was different this year, with the parade moving around the front polo field in a clockwise direction. In year’s past it’s gone the other way, but those in attendance didn’t seem to mind as long as they had an opportunity to enjoy the many entries and share quality time with friends and neighbors.
“I think it’s great,” said Village of Alhambra resident Mardee Goldberg, a big table tennis player and loyal member of both Red Sox Nation and the New England Patriots Club of The Villages. “I like just how everybody is happy and having a good time.”
Goldberg, who marched in last year’s parade while showing off her “Happy Hanukkah” sweater, said her only suggestion to make the event even better would be to include more marching bands than just those from The Villages High School and Wildwood Middle High School to fill in the gaps with music.
“That makes a parade,” she said.
Perhaps no one was having more fun at the parade than the large contingent from The Villages Parrots Head Club. Decked out in a variety of wacky and colorful outfits, having a great time clearly was the goal of this fun-loving group that’s known for its highly successful charitable efforts that go on throughout the year.
“If you can’t have fun with the Parrot Heads, there’s something wrong with you,” said member Mary Jane Stewart, of the Village of Belle Aire, with a huge smile.
“The Parrot Heads definitely are a good party group,” added fellow Village of Belle Aire resident Bob McCourt, a Parrot Head member who also was known as the “Pied Piper of the Jersey Shore” for 67 years while playing bagpipes at parades and events. “I always like to march in parades.”
Stewart agreed, adding that one thing stands out as her favorite among all others.
“Looking at everybody that’s come out to celebrate,” she said. “Look at how festive everybody is.”
Another parade participant who was thoroughly enjoying the moment was Bill Shawn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who flew a variety of helicopters during two tours of duty in Vietnam. Shawn, of the Village of Pine Ridge, served his country for more than 36 years and recently completed a more than year-long project to turn his golf cart into a replica of an AH-1G Cobra Gunship. Saturday’s parade marked the second event Shawn has participated in with the specialized cart, following an appearance in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March in Spanish Springs Town Square.
“I had to miss last year’s Christmas Parade so this has been really great,” said Shawn, who in September took part in a Villages Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. and also had his specialized Cobra golf cart on display in front of the Waterfront Inn in Lake Sumter Landing during an event for the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association of Florida.
A short time later, another customized golf cart – this one converted to look like an old-school race car paying tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt – rolled by. Sporting The Intimidator’s famous number 3, spectators would never have known that the customized vehicle was once just an ordinary 2001 Yamaha golf cart.
“It took us a year and a half to make it,” said owner Art Fehrman, a member of The Villages Motor Racing Fan Club, referring to the work he and fellow Villager Tommy Esposito put into the creating the sleek black racing machine. “Tommy’s my chief mechanic. It says it right on the side of the car.”
Meanwhile, Villagers John and Cathy Cottilli were certainly doing their part to share in the holiday spirit while wishing the parade participants a Merry Christmas as they filed past them. The couple, who has lived in the Village of Collier for six years after moving “north” from Fort Myers, was enjoying sharing the moment with their eight-month-old short-legged Jack Russell Terrier, Lily.
“This is her first parade,” said Cathy, adding that she and John haven’t missed a Villages Christmas Parade since moving to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. “It’s just fun and we love it.”