The Semmes Christmas Parade began with a vision of Elaine Dearmon and Jack Tillman that Semmes could have its own Christmas Parade. A committee was established and The Friends of Semmes, Inc. was born in August 2002. However, within the first few weeks of its existence, its goal expanded beyond the Christmas parade, to include promotion and organization of future family-oriented community activities. “Working Together on community projects for a better Semmes,” became the mission statement.
“Committee Members were Melvin Pierce, Sr., his wife Evelyn, Elaine Dearmon, Maxine Merritt, Kathleen Murphy, Bill Stuckey, Jack Tillman, Jane Farnell, Terri Nelson, Carol Druckenmiller, Darrell Allen, Charlie Guntharp, Roy Hudson, Belinda Shoub, Bettie Smith, Jimmy Carley, Louise Myles, Larry Ezell, Billie Parsons, Steve Turner, and Ed Massey. Kerry and Angie Hannah, and Karen McDuffie joined the committee within a few years later.”
Founding Board of Directors were; Melvin Pierce, Sr.(chairman), Jack Tillman, Bill Stuckey, Roy Hudson, Elaine Dearmon, Maxine Merritt, and Carol Druckenmiller.
By laws were established, meetings were held weekly with the short term goal of a Christmas Parade in December 2002. The first Semmes Christmas parade was held December 14, 2002 and had over 5,000 parade watchers lined up on Wulff and Moffett Rd. (Hwy 98) and 85 different participating units, including a Grand Marshal, a live Santa Claus, public dignitaries, the MGM marching band and honor guard, Azalea Trail Maids, Abba Temple Shiners, several different dance studios, antique car organizations, also a local Corvette car group, marching horses, and the Semmes Volunteer Fire Department.
The Semmes parade was modeled after several others established local parades including the Tillman’s Corner, Saraland and Lucedale parades. The event was chaired by Jack Tillman and Karen McDuffie.
Even though Friends of Semmes no longer is in existence, the parade has continued for 14 years on the second Saturday of December. The City of Semmes has coordinated the last four parades.
Other family-oriented Community activities founded by The Friends of Semmes are as follows:
CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING The first tree lighting chaired by Jack Tillman was December 7, 2002, with local school choirs participating, Santa Claus, hot chocolate and cookies. The Location was between Regions Bank and the Dollar Store on Moffett Rd. (Hwy 98).
In 2004 the Christmas Tree Lighting was moved to the Semmes Community Center providing more space and so that activities were not influenced by the weather.
The Christmas tree location moved to intersection of Moffett Rd. (Hwy 98) and McCrary, in front of the Semmes Public Library and continues to be an annual event with Santa, local school choirs, hot chocolate and cookies. The City of Semmes sponsors this event.
SEMMES AZALEA FESTIVAL The first Azalea Festival was held March 22, 2003 and ½ day on March23, 2003 at the Semmes Community Center, coordinated by Terri Nelson. It was modeled after the Tillman’s Corner Pecan Festival. The first planning group for the community-wide festival included Bill Stuckey, Melvin Pierce Sr., Jack Tillman, Carol Druckenmiller, Terri Nelson. Larry Ezell, Darryl Pritchett, Jamey Greer, Jane Farnell, Gaery Gaston, RE Hedgepath, Bobby Ballard, Jonathan Charest, Evelyn Pierce, Maxine Merritt, Elaine Dearmon, and Benjie and Tina Seals.
The festival outgrew its location and the following year it was moved to the MGM High School campus, where it has been held ever since. The length of the festival was changed to one day.
A variety of activities have been offered over the years, including: Arts and crafts booths, charity bake-off (usually with local celebrities as judges), grandstand music and singers, food concessions, plant sale, children’s play area, train ride, art contest, rock wall climbing, wood carving.
Many different local organizations and businesses participated, Semmes Women’s Club, Semmes Boys and Girls Club, Semmes Masonic Lodge, MGM Football Boosters, local nurseries, various vendors, The Melinda Leigh and Starmakers Rhythm Dance Teams, MGM Honors Band, USA Cheerleaders, Azalea Trail Maids, Mobile Bay Bears Mascot, local antique car clubs, winners from the Azalea Festival Pageant, and Artistry in Wood (Sponsored by Century Bank and Fincher and Assoc.)
A vital part of the festival was a 5k Run started in 2009 by Mark McKee. Proceeds from this event went to the Semmes Boys and Girls Club. After a few Years it was taken over by the Semmes Boys and Girls Club and Director, Blake DeWitt. In 2015 the name was changed to the Semmes BIG Challenge 5k Run. It remains a successful part of the Azalea Festival with participants increasing each year.
Another vital part of the festival was the Antique Car and Truck Show. It was sponsored by Floorz and More, a local Semmes business under the direction of David Miller, owner. Through there were antique cars and trucks for several years, in 2011 is when Floorz and More took over the sponsorship officially. It averaged about 100 vehicles each year with a cost of $20 per vehicle to enter. Proceeds from the event each year goes to: Second Chance Embrace Life, Organ & Tissue Donation Awareness and Education.
AZALEA FESTIVAL PAGEANT
The Beauty pageant associated with the Azalea Festival was first held in 2004. The pageant initially had 42 participants, with winners from five different age groups-Teen Miss, Young Miss, Little Miss, Petite Miss, and Tiny Miss. The pageant was held on the Friday night before the Festival. The winners were dressed in pageant tee shirts and participated in activities the day of the festival and were announced on the stage. The event was chaired each year by Jane Farnell with a great deal of help from her daughters Tracie Farnell Robinson, Amanda Farnell Sumrall, Cindy Hall, Mandi Robison, Michelle Hardin, Charlie Crabtree, Karen McDuffie and the MGM cheerleaders.
Semmes Chamber of Commerce is now the coordinator of the Semmes Azalea Festival.
EASTER EGG HUNT
Beginning April 12, 2003 and for several years after, the Friends of Semmes worked with the Semmes Volunteer Fire Department and the Woodmen of the World #1961 to put on an annual Easter Egg Hunt at the Semmes Community Center. In addition to the actual egg hunt for 3 different age groups, activities at the event included Face painting, pictures with the Easter Bunny, Karaoke contest, hay ride, moon walk, coloring and best decorated egg contests, and a jumbo slide. The event was chaired by Maxine Merritt with help from local churches.
The City of Semmes is the now coordinator of the Semmes Easter Egg Hunt.
Thank you to Terri Nelson and Ckd for the historical summary of The Friends of Semmes, Inc.
Most of these established family-oriented activities continue today as annual community events, even though the community-wide committee, The Friends of Semmes, no longer exists.
Preserving our History!