Lamar Homecoming affords community chance to show school spirit, rekindles tradition

Lamar University courtesy photo

When Cardinal football was reintroduced in 2010, there was an excitement on campus that hadn’t been felt in a long time. It was a welcome return following two decades without a sport that Southeast Texans eat, sleep and breathe. Now that Big Red pride is back in full force, Lamar University reintroduces another tradition dating back more than half a century — the Homecoming Parade.

“In the early days, when Lamar was a junior college of only a few hundred students, they enjoyed modest homecomings,” said Lamar University Archivist Penny Clark. “During World War II, Lamar celebrated no homecomings as all of the energy and money of the nation was directed to winning the war. After the war was over in 1946, homecomings were again celebrated with lavish events, including an annual parade downtown. The parades downtown featured dozens of lavish floats, bands and sporty new convertibles. Each year’s homecoming was celebrated around a central theme such as fairy tales, holiday celebrations and Sunday comics, and included other events such as bon fires, festivals and pep rallies. As the years went by, parades were held at other locales around the city including routes from Gaylyn Shopping Center to Gateway. The last downtown parade was held in 1987 for Beaumont’s Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) and was attended by 20,000 people! Homecoming was not held in the fall at Lamar after football ended in 1989.”

For the first time since, a Lamar Homecoming parade will be held Saturday, Nov. 1, at 11 a.m. starting at the corner of Jimmy Simmons Boulevard and Jim Gilligan Avenue; it is a milestone for the university. The route will head north on Jimmy Simmons Boulevard, turn on East Lavaca headed back toward MLK Boulevard and work its way south down the frontage road before turning right on Virginia Street where it will conclude by the Plummer Building.

Nearly forty student organizations have committed to participating with floats and other entries with many faculty and staff members serving as advisories to these groups, an integral part of the process. Additionally, dozens of staff and faculty members will be volunteering on parade day as marshals. The parade will feature the Lamar University marching band, football team and spirit groups along with the Big Red and Lu mascots.

“There’s a great opportunity for children and their parents to be entertained,” said LU President Dr. Ken Evans. “But it also provides the community exposure to what’s going on at the university. Ironically enough, Lamar University sits in Beaumont, but there are a lot of folks in Beaumont who don’t make it to campus all that frequently. This is a great vehicle to attract the community to what’s going on at Lamar.”

Lamar alumni Bud and Charlene Leonard will lead the parade as grand marshals, an honor bestowed upon the couple for their longstanding commitment to the university.

“When we were thinking about who would be the grand marshals, it sort of made sense that Bud and Charlene would be great candidates for serving in that role,” Evans said. “As a student, alumnus and administrator, Bud has been an ardent lifelong supporter of Lamar University and represents the very best of the history and spirit of our institution. I am delighted that he and his wife, Charlene, will be leading our parade.”

Charlene said she and Bud have fond memories of building floats for the LU homecoming parades when they were students at the university.

“Float building was a big thing,” Charlene said. “The fraternities and sororities competed against each other to win the Best Float award. We used the buildings at the Beaumont Fairgrounds to assemble our floats. Secrecy was the rule. We normally worked all night, well into the morning. It was fun but a lot of work. My sorority was the Revelers, which became Alpha Delta Pi. We made some lifelong friends, learned how to organize and prioritize, and how important teamwork is especially when you have a minimum budget and limited time to accomplish your task. It took a lot of pre-planning.”

More than 60 years later, Lamar students are planning for the big event again, said Lamar Student Government Association president and senior Sabrina Lewis, who said she has been lobbying to bring the parade back since her freshman year. This year’s homecoming theme is titled “The Red will Rise” — a fitting title that captures the growing school spirit of the university.

“This is an opportunity to feel the school spirit, something we strive for all the time. Homecoming and the parade … is a time when it just erupts,” Lewis said. “It’s really just an amazing feeling because students don’t just go to Homecoming events, they get to plan them.”

Another exciting aspect of Homecoming is the high school band contest, where hundreds of Southeast Texas high school band members will be judged as they march in the parade.

“Bands will win awards in the areas of outstanding performance, best drum major, best drum line, best twirlers flag or dancers, best music performance and best marching skills. Judges will watch each band as they pass by the reviewing stand,” said Dr. Scott Deppe, LU director of bands.

Later that evening, these same bands will perform alongside the Lamar University Marching Band, the Showcase of Southeast Texas, in a massed band program at the football game, which pits the Cardinals against the Huskies of Houston Baptist University at 6 p.m. The Homecoming Court will also be presented at the game.

“It is exciting for the high school bands, some of which include eighth graders and even some seventh graders, to perform in a large stadium, on carpeted turf, with a video board,” Deppe said. “Many will perform for the largest crowd they have ever been in front of. We hope the spectators enjoy the halftime show with the high school students and also hope to create an environment of excitement coming down the parade route!”

Post parade events on campus include Yount-Lee Equestrian Day at the Spindletop Gladys City Museum complete with a Lucas Gusher re-enactment; Art Extravaganza, a show, sale and all ages free painting workshop; Lunch on the Lawn with food trucks and a DJ; and an Alumni Homecoming Tailgate. Other game day tailgating activities including a live band and Kids Zone and From the Archives: an exhibit in the library of archival photos from past Homecoming parades, including memorabilia donated by the Leonards.

Bud reflected on the significance of the event, which still holds a special place in his heart after all these years.

“All homecomings were important and memorable … win or lose,” he said. “The student body usually got more involved and interested in the game as well as the community. There was a matter of pride that went with playing well in your homecoming game.”

Bud Leonard said he and his wife would have probably never met each other if it weren’t for Lamar University.

“Lamar literally gave me my life,” he said. “I would likely have never had a college education without Lamar. I am very honored and humbled to be asked (to lead the parade as grand marshal). To even be considered is an honor.”

For more information about LU Homecoming events, visit lamar.edu/homecoming

During the homecoming parade, several lots, as well as the route itself, will be closed to through traffic prior to the start of the parade, and will remain closed throughout the parade. Fans can view a map of the parade route on the Lamar website. All the red lots along Jimmy Simmons Boulevard will be closed 45 minutes prior to the start of the parade, while green lots will remain open until filled. The red lots along Lavaca will close 30 minutes prior to the start of the parade, while the Lavaca green lots will remain open until 15 minutes prior, along with the red lots along the MLK frontage road.

Fans planning on tailgating at lots A2 and A5 should arrive from the south side of campus. All fans wishing to view the parade should make plans to arrive by 10:30 a.m. to find a spot along the route. The parade route will be closed during the duration of the parade.

shadow