Parade of Lights 2008: Children lined Main Street to see floats.

The Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary School float was a giant sleigh pack with dozens of children.

A float of Girl Scouts features a snowy marshmallow roast at Saturday’s Parade of Lights.

A performer with the Burning Desert Fire Collective walks down Main Street during Saturday’s Parade of Lights.

The Snow Skippers float in Saturday’s Parade of Lights had a toddler hanging out at “Grandma’s House.”

Kathie Iles of Grand Junction keeps the Parade of Lights afloat. The 61-year-old is as vital to the Christmas parade in Grand Junction as the jingle in “Jingle Bells” or Rudolph himself.

The annual Parade of Lights was Saturday night, and parents, children, friends and pets lined Main Street to see this year’s crop of floats.
Iles is like a traffic cop. She has directed all the shiny floats west down Main Street every year for the past 15 years.

Without her, downtown’s signature event might plummet into chaos.

Semitrailers might have to turn dangerous corners, the marching bands might be too close to one another, Girl Scouts might not find their troops’ float. The steady stream of floats might have giant gaps or be too squished, and the whole thing might not start at 5 p.m. on the dot.
Iles is in charge of staging all 100 floats. She spends days working on two lists: one with the entered floats in alphabetical order, the other with the floats listed numerically. Then she sketches out a map of where every float should line up from Seventh to 12th streets and Grand to Colorado avenues, and which direction they should face while waiting for the parade to start.

By 3 p.m. Saturday, Iles was in parade mode. She had on her floppy Santa hat, her jingle-bell earrings and her neon orange safety vest. She coordinated her volunteers from a Mesa County Search and Rescue trailer at Ninth and Main streets.

Before all the volunteers assumed their posts around the neighborhood, she briefed them.

“OK. Hey, everybody,” she hollered over the chatter.

People quieted down.

She told them to remember their radio etiquette, “speak slowly and clearly,” make sure no driveways are blocked by floats, tell people where the portable restrooms are, make sure no one has Santa figurines on their floats and make sure each float’s number can be seen clearly from the street.

“Does anybody have any questions?” Iles finished.

Once her watch read 5 p.m., and she radioed her 11 helpers (plus kids) who confirmed, “Yes, ma’am,” things were ready to go. She had choreographed the parade to a T.

“I’m a control freak; I like to be in charge,” Iles said.

That’s one of the main reasons she stages the Parade of Lights year after year. She likes Christmas, she said, but it’s partly habit that has her in staging mode every year.

“She’s good at telling people what to do anyways,” Iles’ daughter, Janina Fiedler said. 

The air is electric once the parade starts. The big trucks start honking their horns, the carols get a little louder, and the marching band drummers start the pa rum pum pum pum.
Iles halted floats when they approached Ninth and Main streets, and when it was their turn to go, she waved them by and said, “Have fun. See ya.”

Her favorite floats are the ones that look homemade, she said, “because those are the ones from the heart.”


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