Chamber crew adding to Christmas on the River

DACCOn Nov. 19, Michael Kennedy marked one-year as director of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, his was more of a watch-and-learn position as he experienced his first Christmas on the River, especially since the Monroe, La., native had recently moved to the city.

Mallie Quarles, the Chamber’s office manager, was just as new, although she started learning in October as all the COTR pageants took place.

His first year on the job has been one of “figuring out the previous organization and then moving (the Chamber) towards our organization,” Kennedy said.

The biggest challenge has been learning the “intimate details of Demopolis so when people call I can respond appropriately.” Over the year his knowledge of the city and its history has grown, and now he is better able to tell the story.

He and his wife, Hannah, daughter of Traci and Rob Pearson, had been dating for three years before their marriage this summer. He had made a number of trips passing through or visiting, but he didn’t “know before then there was a good-sized city” and everything that city had to offer.

As their first anniversary in the job approached, Kennedy and Quarles found the month before COTR “is the first month we’ve gotten into the things we didn’t know about,” said Kennedy.

“People would ask, ‘What about this?’ and I would go, ‘I’ve never heard about that,” he said. “Most people have been pretty patient and understanding”

Changes this year include “sponsorship packages for businesses, corporations and citizens that want to be a part of it.” The packages have added more value to each level of giving, and not just for monetary gifts, but for in-kind services as well. “People want to be recognized.”

The Chamber has made other “small little tweaks that will positively affect” the event, he continued.

New this year was opening the COTR float warehouse for people to see all the work that has gone on to create the floats. “If you get up next to it and you’re like, ‘that’s some detail that went into that’,” Kennedy said. He is impressed with the creativity and hard work from people in Demopolis to make COTR special.

Barbara Blevins and her beautification crew is preparing a new tree for the lighting of the Public Square, he added.

The night parade, under the chairmanship of Buffy Etheridge, will feature two new floats, this year, Kennedy added. The UWA golf team has pitched in by testing more than 1,000 bulbs to light up the “floats that really float.”

While there is little new construction for the day parade, a lot of work by a lot of volunteers has gone into sprucing up and preparing the floats for this year’s event. Jennifer Roemen, chairman, has lined up at least four bands, and the popular paper mache characters will be back to march along the route.

“Not having a lot of new additions has helped us stay in budget,” said Kennedy. “In places that we weren’t spending much we’ve been able to look toward the future and purchase items that will be good for us.”

All food and retail booths are sold out, but as of last week a few craft vendor spaces left. All the RV parking spaces have been reserved.

“Vendors probably are the most complicated” part of Quarles job in preparing for COTR, she said, while working with Ann Parsons on the pageants was the most enjoyable.

“I had a lot of fun doing it, but they kept me very busy,” she laughed.

The Demopolis native is getting a different view of Demopolis’ Christmas party for the world.

“I’ve always loved Christmas on the River,” she said. “I love Christmas.”