FARMER CITY — In the months leading up to this city’s annual Christmas parade, organizer Chad Wills goes through his checklist and makes sure everything is done, from notifying float participants and marching bands to communicating with the police and the city.
Just ask former WCIA weather forecaster Judy Fraser.
“Everything is just perfectly outlined,” Fraser said. “He sends me a letter, and then he sends me a follow-up letter. And I’m sure he does that to all of the 100-plus entries. He’s just been excellent about putting this parade together every year. I just have high admiration for him.”
Gibson City (6:30 p.m. today) and Farmer City (2 p.m. Sunday) will kick off a busy stretch of area holiday parades, with other towns to follow next weekend (Champaign, Paxton, Catlin and LeRoy, among them) and throughout December.
Each year, Farmer City’s spectacle has a different theme — Sunday’s is "Holidays on TV" — but certain staples persist.
One, of course, is Santa, who brings up the rear of the parade. Another is Fraser.
Wills took over his lead role of the parade 25 years ago, when the previous organizer couldn’t make it. He was a senior at Illinois Wesleyan at the time, but after helping out at the parade in previous years, he felt ready to take on the challenge, if a little overwhelmed.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll step up and do it. I’m familiar enough with it,’” he said. “The first few years, it was making sure everything got done. At this point, I’ve got it down to a science. ... The fact of being a 21-year-old at the time, dealing with adults and getting respect, that was the biggest challenge a the time.”
Fraser was originally asked to participate by Junior Kimler, who started the parade in 1973, in her first year at WCIA. Hailing from a small farming community in Wisconsin, Farmer City immediately felt familiar.
“It really brings back home memories,” she said. “I’ve always felt that way about Farmer City, and that’s why I’ve gone back for 43 years, because it reminds me of home. It touches my heart.
“I love the people who have worked there over the years and I love the people who came and now have children who have children who come. It’s just a tradition with me that I absolutely love.”
The parade comes at an unconventional time, before people traditionally put up lights on their house and trees in their living rooms. But for Farmer City natives, it’s completely normal.
“It’s one of those events that everyone plans their holiday season around,” Wills said, “at least in the Farmer City area.”
Fraser, for one, doesn’t mind starting the Christmas season a little early.
“For me, anyway, it put me in the holiday spirit,” she said. “Everyone has plans for Thanksgiving and is thinking about all of that, and for me, going to that parade and seeing everybody, most of the floats have a Christmas theme, the bands play Christmas music, and by the time that parade is over, I’m ready for Christmas.”