Parade perspectives

Whether a spectator or spectacle, there’s no such thing as a bad Hobo Day

I’ve watched the Hobo Day parade from dozens of locations over the years, but two stand out. Both were years I saw the parade from the middle of the street.

For many years the Woster clan gathered on Hobo Day morning at Fergen’s on the east side of the main downtown street.

Terry Woster, with wife Nancy, rides in a chilly 1995 Hobo Day parade Distinguished Alumnus. He says it is better to be cold than to be dressed like Rocky Racoon, which is what he felt like the last time he was in the parade.

My brother-in-law Ken Haug owned the store then, and he always had coffee, juice and doughnuts ready in the back, a ready smile for all who entered the front door and a willingness to help a parade watcher pick out a sports coat or sweater if a gap developed among the bands and floats cruising by outside the display windows.

Our Brookings granddaughter was pretty sad when her Uncle Ken sold the store, because the doughnuts and juice were essential to her parade experience for as far back as she could remember.

I have to admit, meeting other members of the family in the store or out on the front sidewalk, spreading blankets at the curb and swapping stories between floats was an experience I looked forward to each fall.

Kept safe distance as a collegian

As a student, I saw the parade from several vantage points, none of which included running in the street dressed as a hobo or riding on one of the home-made hobo cars.

Being a journalism student, I never got into decorating or riding a prize-winning float, either. I knew a few pharmics who did, but none of my soon-to-be-newspaper reporters and photographers got that deeply involved.

We mostly did what J-school folks do — we stood close to but apart from the crowd, observed and took notes.

Gathering in front of Fergen's for the 1999 Hobo Day parade are Terry Woster's granddaughter Lara Widman, daughter Jennifer Widman, son Scott, Woster, son Andy and son-in-law Rich Widman. Jennifer Widman taught English at SDSU for several years. Andy Widman taught psychology at SDSU until last year.

Those were good times, because there really is no such thing as a bad Hobo Day. Some are unseasonably warm, some are too cold for words, some are wet with rain or white with snow flurries.

Some are better than others, but none are bad, although the Hobo Day of my senior year in high school came about as close to being, um, not so good, as any in my memory.

Drum major or Rocky Raccoon?

It was fall 1961. Charles Roberts, director of bands at Chamberlain High School, brought his marching Cubs to Brookings to participate in the Hobo Day parade.

The band had a superb saxophone section (I say that because my wife, Nancy, played sax in that band) and a strong percussion section (ditto because my little sister, Mary Haug, wife of Ken and longtime SDSU English instructor, played drums) and an under-appreciated drum major. Yeah, that was me.

I wore a white suit with flashy gold stripes down the outer seams of the trousers, Michael Jackson-like braids at the shoulders and a tall, fuzzy white hat with a black brim that should have but didn’t make me look like a regal British castle guard. I looked pretty much like Rocky Raccoon or something — with apologies to the Beatles, and to raccoons everywhere.

I became drum major largely because I was the same general size as the drum-major suit, and when Mr. Roberts asked, I was so surprised I forgot to say “Are you nuts?’’

Terry Woster's granddaughter, Lara Widman, sits on the curb in front of Fergen's working through a chocolate-covered doughnut at Hobo Day 1999. Watching the parade from Fergen's Main Avenue location was a Woster tradition for years.

So, I led the CHS marching band down the Hobo Day parade route that year. What a long, long route it was. The actual distance was enough to tire a person. Worse than that was having little kids sitting on the curbs point at me and laugh, and having the occasional high-spirited college student prance up alongside and match steps. One of those students carried a toilet plunger, and that was very funny — to him and his friends along the parade route.

Band members used to get into the Hobo Day game free, if they wore their uniforms. I think I changed to civvies on the bus and paid my admission. That was the last year before Coughlin-Alumni Stadium opened. I thought the old field was the biggest thing I’d ever seen, until the next year.

A cold convertible ride

Many years later, I was honored to ride in the Hobo Day parade as a distinguished alumnus. I didn’t deserve that award, but I didn’t give it back, either. Nancy and I watched most of the parade with the other honorees from a spot near the alumni center and then climbed into a vehicle to ride down the street.

It was terribly cold Oct. 14, 1995, and when it was our turn to ride, the last two dignitary vehicles were a convertible Mustang and a hardtop Corvette. Unfortunately for me, the other “W’’ being honored that day was Warren Williamson, longtime wrestling coach. He said he’d prefer the closed Corvette if I didn’t mind. I suppose I could have gone two falls out of three, but, heck, I always wanted to ride in a convertible in a parade.

Who notices the cold on Hobo Day, anyway?

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