The iconic celebration of civic pride, creative expression and just plain fun known as the Portland Rose Festival is back to its full itinerary this year. It’s been a part of the cultural life of the area for more than a century. The festival had to be vastly scaled down in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, but has only been canceled twice since it began in 1907. Events include three parades, the Spring Rose Show, fleet week and what’s known as CityFair at the Tom McCall Waterfront park, with games, rides, concerts and more.
The Rose Festival officially kicks off Friday, May 27. But several events are scheduled for Thursday, including free public performance by the Oregon Symphony. The Rose Festival officially runs through June 11, but many related events are scheduled throughout that month. Leslie Goodlow has only missed one Grand Floral Parade since she first moved to the city in 1971 when she was five years old. She’s a past president of the festival and was its first Black president and only the fifth woman to hold the position. Goodlow joins us to tell us a bit more about the event’s storied history and what’s new about the celebration this year.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. The Portland Rose Festival was vastly scaled down over the last two years because of the pandemic, but the iconic celebration of civic pride, creative expression and just plain fun is back in full flower this year. It has been a part of the cultural life of the area for more than a century. It now includes three parades, the Spring Rose Show and Fleet Week along with games, rides and concerts at the Tom McCall waterfront park. It officially kicks off tomorrow, but several events are scheduled for today, including a free public performance by the Oregon Symphony. Leslie Goodlow is a past president of the festival. She joins us now to talk about its history, its present and its future. It’s good to have you back on Think Out Loud.
Leslie Goodlow: Hi, how are you doing? Glad to be here.
Miller: Doing great. Thanks for joining us.
Goodlow: My pleasure.
Miller: How old were you when you saw your first Rose Festival?
Goodlow: I was five. We moved to Portland’s in 1971 in March and we walked over to what was then Triple A Ambulance, right there on the corner of Broadway and now MLK where the parade makes the turn and I watched my very first parade that year and to date, I’ve only missed one in all of those years and I was giving birth to my daughter. So I think that that’s a legitimate reason to miss a parade.
Miller: You’ve been to every parade in Portland, but one when you were in labor since 1971?
Goodlow: Yes, I have. I have been to every single parade.
Miller: And you and I’m curious how much you remember about that first year and what kind of impression it made on you.
Goodlow: You know the things that I remember are the people and coming from a small town in Illinois, there was nothing like that there. The Rose Festival for us was like Disneyland. I mean that was my only frame of reference as a small child to think about. But we walked over with our little wagon and sat there on the street. My little sister was about eight months old. And me and my little brother sat there in our PJ’s and watched the parade. The thing that I do remember was that I remember the Rosarians in their white suits and then the princesses were the things that I remember from my childhood that always stood out for me
Miller: Because there were these impossibly older girls who seemed sort of magical?
Goodlow: Yes and they got to be in a parade? What better, I mean what’s better than that, than to get to ride on a float in a beautiful dress and be in a parade?
Miller: Did you see people who looked like you on the floats or in parades?
Goodlow: I don’t recall as a child that there were as many as we have now or we’ve had over the last 25 years and my being involved with the festival. I can remember being very excited when there was a princess that was selected that was brown. When you could, they used to hang the big portraits at Lloyd Center and just, oh so excited that someone that looks like me got to be a princess.
Miller: In other words, you remember being at the mall and seeing a picture and recognizing that somebody who had your complexion had been recognized by the city and could take part in this thing. That meant a lot to you.
Goodlow: Yes, yes, it did. And I remember going to the mall specifically to see the pictures.
Miller: That’s why you went there.
Miller: Obviously I want to, I want to talk about this year’s festival, but can you just give us a brief sense of history here, of how this came to be 115 years ago?
Goodlow: Sure. So a lot of people probably don’t know that the Rose Festival was born out of the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905, it was the 100 year celebration of Lewis and Clark’s discovery of Oregon. The mayor at the time, Harry Lane decided that they wanted to have an ongoing celebration and in 1907, the very first Rose Festival occurred. We had a million people come to Portland when there were very few cars, there were no planes. People came by horse, by boat, by train to Portland to celebrate. There were, of course there were parades, there were car races, there was, there was a fleet, many of the things that we continue to have today started in 1907.
Miller: What has been added over the years? I mean for people who maybe aren’t familiar with this tradition, I mean, can you give us a sense of some of the Rose Festival affiliated events that are going to be happening over the next few weeks?
Goodlow: Well, the big one today is this free symphony concert. We’re really excited about Bank of America sponsoring the concert that will be happening tonight at six o’clock at the Schnitzer. We originally were going to have it in the park, but because the weather gods are not cooperating. We are, we moved it inside.
Miller: I hadn’t heard that. So it has officially been moved?
Goodlow: Yes, it has been moved to the Schnitzer.
Miller: But it remains free.
Goodlow: Yes, it remains free.
Miller: That’s tonight, a kind of symphonic kickoff for the festival. What else is there?
Goodlow: So tomorrow night is the opening night of the City Fair and we will have the largest fireworks this side of the Rocky Mountains. For the opening night, we are taking all the stops to celebrate being back for the Rose City reunion, where we’ve been working on this actually for the last two years in preparation of being able to celebrate again as a community. And so we’re having a great opening night tomorrow night down at the waterfront.
Miller: How much was the Rose festival curtailed over the last two years?
Goodlow: Well, we moved to virtual events. We had a virtual opening night with virtual fireworks. We did a porch parade that actually other festivals across the country picked up and used that as part of their events. But we still had a court. We still selected a queen. We had a virtual fleet week. So we were able to continue doing some of the things that we do and supporting the community without endangering the health and safety of the residents of Portland.
Miller: But I think it’s fair to say that if computers had been around back when you were five in 1971, you wouldn’t probably be talking about your first virtual parade, if that’s what it had been. There is a big difference between a parade happening in real life and one you can see on your computer screen.
Goodlow: Exactly. I totally agree with you. It would be a very different situation if they had all been virtual. My children grew up with the Rose Festival. My youngest daughter, I took her to her first parade. She was five weeks old. They are both now on the board. The youngest one was a princess. So this is, this is their life that’s part of who they are volunteering and now giving back as part of the Board of Directors.
Miller: Why did you start volunteering for this organization?
Goodlow: Because I have been in love with the Rose Festival since 1971. It was, like I said, it was like Disneyland to us as kids and my mother would take us down to the Fun Center. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were able to go on some rides, have some junk food, go on the ships and just enjoy being together. And that’s the sentiment that I grew up with, that I loved and I wanted to help bring that to other people. And so in 1999 I was recommended to the board by one of my high school teachers, Carol Rudy, who was on the board. She mentored me and assisted me. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2006 before I became president. But because of her, I was able to do what I love.
Miller: Has entering sort of the inside of this festival, has that dispelled the magic that you felt as a child?
Goodlow: No, if anything, it makes it more so because even though I know what it takes to put a parade on the streets, when you’re walking down the street with with the princesses or when I used to walk with One More Time Around Again Band and you see those kids and you see the smiles and the seniors clapping. It brings the same feeling back for me every single year. It has not changed.
Miller: What was it like the first time you actually got to be one of the people marching or on a float?
Goodlow: I was so excited. You would have thought that I was the queen!
Miller: Just because you felt like you were the queen, I imagine.
Goodlow: Yes, it was so thrilling for me to march with the One More Time Band. My mom was such a big fan of that band and that was, she, that was what she wanted to see in the parade was the One More Time Around Again Band. And so that was the very first committee that I joined, that I was able to walk in the parade. And so being with them, walking with the drum line, just, you couldn’t tell me that I was not Queen for a day.
Miller: What are you most looking forward to in this year’s festival?
Miller: You can’t choose, but if you had to choose, what would it be?
Goodlow: Being back.
Miller: Okay. So being back as, as an overarching thing. That makes sense.
Goodlow: But I think one of the things I’m looking forward to is, I have a new grandson and we’re going to walk in the Junior Parade. So this will be the first time that, well since my kids were kids, they’re grown, but to be able to walk in the Junior Parade with my grandson and my little great niece. So I’m looking forward to that.
Miller: And just briefly, and that’s something that anybody can do, right? You don’t need to be a V. I. P.?
Goodlow: Right, anybody, any child, any day care center, anybody can come, you can walk up, you can, we’re doing bike decorating, a wagon. Anybody can join the parade.
Miller: And what day is the Junior Parade?
Goodlow: That is Wednesday, June 8th.
Miller: Leslie Goodlow, thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Goodlow: Oh, you’re very welcome and Happy Rose Festival, everybody!
Miller: Happy Rose Festival to you. That is Leslie Goodlow, a past president of the Rose Festival. She remains still, the youngest person ever to be the president of the Rose Festival. She is also a Business Operations Manager for the Portland Housing Bureau.
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