The combined forces of military pride and holiday cheer shone through for the Four Corners Board of Realtors Parade of Lights in Cortez Saturday night.
The parade theme this year was “A Salute to Hometown Heroes.” The theme honors veterans, active-duty armed service members and fallen service members.
Sixty brightly lit floats with creative holiday and military designs cruised Main Street as thousands of spectators lined the sidewalks taking in the spectacular scene.
“It’s a fitting tribute to all veterans, active service members and their families,” said Rick Torres, director of Montezuma County Veterans Affairs. “There is a rich history in the community for serving our country that dates back to the Civil War. “People here love their veterans, and you can really feel that tonight.”
Montezuma County lost two men this year in service to the country, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer of Mancos and Army Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay of Cortez. In 2005, the community lost George Geer, a Montezuma County soldier who died in Iraq.
Jason Larson of Tuffy Security Products just south of town said the parade is part of the season.
“We all have families, and we all just want to be a part of it,” he said. “This is just a nice, annual thing that we can do to be a part of the community.”
Tuffy got behind this year’s theme in their float decoration too, saluting hometown heroes of all kinds.
“With the theme being ‘Salute to Hometown Heroes’ this year, we really wanted to put the focus on law enforcement, armed services, our teachers, our fire department, our doctors, our nurses, medical services,” Larson said. “We really wanted to extend it to everybody who is helping this community grow and better itself.”
Groups came from all around the Four Corners to celebrate the holidays, and parade their floats. Sonya John was named Miss Blue Mountain Unity at San Juan High School over in Blanding, Utah, and she was there with her family and runner-up attendants.
“Just representing the school and getting her recognized,” said her mom, Cecilia. Blue Mountain Unity is a Native American club at the high school, she added.
Local radio station KRTZ emceed the event, and it was streamed live by the Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce. Five marching bands from area schools participated as well.
Veteran Bob Sanders said the local pride for military service is heartwarming and represents the patriotic values of rural America. He served in the Air Force, including three tours in Vietnam, and in Desert Storm, all as a flight mechanic.
“We flew in bullets and meals, and shipped out the wounded, then turned around and did it again,” he said. “The tougher moments were the rockets firing at us, the wounded and those who died in action. The highlights were getting the mission done, I’d do it again.”
Sanders is the commander for the local Disabled American Veterans group. They recently renamed their Chapter 44 to the “Lindsay-Geer” Chapter in honor of two of the many local soldiers who died in action.
The parade theme of Hometown Heroes is not only for military service, said members of the Ute Mountain Ute Casino float. Their float showed artwork depicting military soldiers on one side, and civilian community providers such as nurses, teachers, firefighters and EMTs on the other.
“We’re showcasing all our community heroes,” said Brad Waltman, of the Ute Mountain Casino. “Recognizing people who step up to serve the needs others is the concept of our float.”
The larger-than-life parade has become a badge of honor for Cortez and attracts viewers from all over the region.
“This parade is impressive and is a lot larger than I was expecting,” said Jennifer Wade, who moved to Cortez last year. “I will participate again next year for sure.”
A whopper of a float was the massive crane brought in by Tucker Transportation Inc. of Cortez. The 275T Grove Hydraulic can pick up 275 tons, and cost $1.5 million.
Owners Morgan and Bronson Tucker said this is the first time they entered the parade, and they were inspired by the military theme.
“We have been in business here for a while and want to participate more in community events,” said Bronson Tucker. “We are proud to be a part of it.”
The crane, which has a 225-foot boom, was outfitted with military flags, wrapped presents, lights, classic rock music and a Christmas tree.
Judges name top floatsThe five women judges of the parade are all military veterans. They are Michele McCabe, Marines; Dena Stafford, Navy; Dee Blackhorse, Army; Laura Lenihan, Air Force; and Kayla Maynard, Navy. Floats were rated based on theme, lights, creativity and music.
In the “Commercial” category, Stormy’s ATC Gymnastics took first place, Slavens True Value was second, and TruWest Auto took third. In the “Non-profit” category, Girl Scout Service Unit 206 took first place, Re-1 Transportation took second, and Whimspire Child Placement Agency was third. In the “Other” category, Copeland Family USA Truck took first place, Cortez 911 Dispatch Center took second place, and Four Corners Re-enacting was third.
“It has become a regional draw, with people coming from all over the Four Corners,” said organizer Michelle Morris. “This is the parade’s 30th year. The first year there were just seven floats, now we have 60.”
Heavy-duty construction equipment decked out in festive lights. Blasting different styles of music were a parade highlight.
“We had the biggest trucks ever this year,” said Maynard. “It was great to see the different takes on hometown heroes. It is our military members, and also our teachers, nurses, miners, law-enforcement and firefighters.”
The mild weather was perfect for the parade, and the crowd on the sidewalk was three or four deep in places. In a time of mourning from recent lost veterans, the community gathering for the Parade of Lights hit patriotic and holiday chords.
“This town really needed a good morale boost, and everyone got into the spirit of things,” said Morris.