Everyone loves a parade – the colorful floats, the strutting bands, the drill teams, the various marchers and riders and so very much more for all to see, hear and enjoy. And this being San Antonio, April, and with Fiesta in the offing, we can all look forward once again to lots of mega-parade activity slated for our adored Alamo City. Hooray!
But have you ever considered just what it takes to make one of these super street sensations happen, especially a whopper like the 125-year-old Battle of Flowers Association extravaganza? Well, no one knows better than long-term Terrell Hills resident and very involved BOFA member Susan McCullough Altgelt, who along with myriad other committed parade pros, annually make this incredible, much loved celebration of our past, present and future a rollicking, rolling reality. Ably entrusted as the second in command as this year’s designated Parade Entries chair, let’s just see what she’s been up to.
Like many SA natives, Susan (who was actually born in Kerrville but moved as a small child into the McCullough family home on Terrell Road in 1954) grew up with many memories of attending the Battle of Flowers Parade. It was just “one of those special things folks did each year in San Antonio,” where parades seem as ubiquitous as our native pecan trees, breakfast tacos and military installations. In 1994, however, when Susan joined the respected and venerable Battle of Flowers Association, she transitioned from the ranks of the viewing public into an insider who had a hands-on opportunity to actually help bring this mother-of-all parades to fruition – no small task, as she was to discover.
Susan, who beyond the BOFA, not only was (and still is in many respects) a full-time wife and mother and an accomplished career woman within the pioneering distance-learning industry, always had “plenty to do” on a daily basis just “keeping up with kids, work and life in general.” But come each February, March and April, after her acceptance into the Association, a portion of her attention started falling on her parade duties. Her first assignment was as an usher at Alamo Plaza, squiring around attendees in search of seating, information or, as she attests, “anything else the lost, overheated and/or confused might need.” Dressed in her “official” yellow dress and large straw hat, she proved to be good at handling the masses and, of equal importance, she loved it!
Throughout the following 22 years, Susan has been tasked with a variety of different responsibilities, including working within and chairing almost every section of the parade. She’s coordinated the route with the police department, worked in the forming area to make sure each entry is lined up and ready to go and even helped prepare the television script and briefed the on-air talent to ensure accurate reporting and coverage while the parade is in progress. Whatever her role, each responsibility further prepared her for her next assignment.
It was last September that Susan, after retirement from 30 years of employment within the education sector, assumed her current position as the 2016 Parade Entries chair – a role that put her right in the center of things, directly behind the very supportive Anna-Laura Block, the Parade chair, and the equally nurturing president of the BOFA, Lynn Ziegler. It’s proven to be an almost full-time job that’s primarily required her to handle the initial and highly detailed processing of more than 200 eager entries (see sidebar) that, after intense vetting, are passed along to the parade board (of which she is a member) for final approval. And after the exacting selection process is complete, a nonstop whirlwind of other tasks and duties further demands her attention to ensure that each approved applicant has met all of the BOFA regulations covering float design perimeters, insurance coverage, city fire code inspections and many other essential organizational and safety requirements.
Add to that the frequent board and other meetings (usually hosted by Susan) as well as a seemingly endless string of round-the-clock phone calls, all concerning the near-overwhelming logistics inherent in such a large production, and it’s truly surprising that she and her co-workers have time for anything else. (Maybe they don’t.) But as this tried and tested parade pro admits with a smile, “It’s worth it because who doesn’t love a parade – watching it, marching in it or running it?”
Next year, Susan is slated to become the Battle of Flowers Association’s Parade chair, an honor she’s eager to accept, and thanks to her can-do attitude, past history, ability to organize, lots of supporting help and a very understanding husband, she’ll be great.
Not many people know that the Battle of Flowers Association started what is known today as Fiesta San Antonio by staging the first Battle of Flowers Parade in 1891.
It was a patriotic celebration to honor the fallen heroes of the Alamo and to commemorate the victory at the Battle of San Jacinto.
And of note, this is the only parade in the United States run entirely by volunteering women.
This year is very special because it is the 125th anniversary of the parade. What follows are just some of this year’s scheduled participants that Susan has worked with, that when formed and given marching orders, make for a very festive revue indeed!
BY Ernie Altgelt
Photography By Elizabeth Warburton