2016 marks the tenth anniversary of Sue Duffy’s volunteer position as Chief Parade Wrangler. She sat down recently with Rose Kanusky to share her story.
R: Your history with the King William Fair is actually much longer than your decade as parade chair. How did it start, especially when you don’t live in Southtown?
S: In the late 80’s through the early aughts, I performed at the Fair with the San Antonio Irish Dancers and various Celtic bands. Around 2003, I was working at the same firm as Tina Garza [a lifetime resident of King William] who asked her co-workers to volunteer for the Fair. I volunteered to work with the parade, and was given the job of organizing the end of the parade during lineup, then marching along with it.
R: What did you do differently to organize the tail end of the parade?
It needed some definition, so people knew the parade was over. I asked for a sign and said I would recruit people to constitute a final entry called “The End.” We received the current sign, which I love. One side says “The End” and the other says “That’s All Folks.” The people who I recruited back then still march as “The End” and will do so this year too.
R: How did you transition into managing the entire parade?
S: You know as well as I do! Back in 2007, when you were Fair Chair, you were looking for someone to organize the parade. You asked me to take it on during mid-January. I remember the timing well because I had only THREE months to learn. And, unfortunately, I never could connect with the former parade chair. I had to figure it out on my own through some serious trial and error.
R: Our parade isn’t run on a closed course, where people are prevented from walking into the street, so gaps between the entries can be a huge problem. What was your solution?
S: After that first parade, I knew I needed helpers. But the Fair had no budget for golf carts to manage the parade. So I thought to myself, “What kind of people are mobile?” Bicycles are obvious, but they’re hard during the parade because the pace is so slow, and the rider ends up “toe-ing” the bike along. Then I thought about roller skates. Who skates? Roller Derby!
I started going to games, to fund raisers. The women got to know me. The women are out in the public doing various good deeds. These are seriously alpha-women. I asked if they might be interested in working the parade. We had numerous meetings, lots of pizza and beer, and worked it out. The Alamo City Roller Derby has been with the King William Fair Parade since 2008. Alamo City Roller Derby is an in-kind sponsor of the parade, and the King William Fair is a sponsor of Alamo City Roller Derby.
R: How did your love of books impact the parade?
S: That first year, 2007, I decided I wanted to give away children’s books during the parade. My book club donated some money, the Kiwanis gave me some money, and I received some money from other acquaintances. I think I had $600 that I used very judiciously at Half Price Books.
The next year someone told me that Half Price Books frequently donates books for worthy causes. I contacted the home office in Dallas, explained Fiesta to them, explained the King William Fair and Parade to them and then — Hallelujah! They donated boxes and boxes and boxes of books, all for free! And Half Price Books has become an in-kind sponsor of the King William Fair Parade.
R: Do you remember when I started a history file on the Fair?
S: How could I forget?! I spent countless hours at the library reading old newspapers on microfilm. But it was really interesting to learn about the evolution of the parade.
R: There’s now an application process for the parade; why is that?
S: My parade organization philosophy is basically that it should, within some broad limits, be pretty well organized; that it should be presented as a moving stage. As a stage, the line-up needs to be varied, so big music is set apart from small music; artsy entries are spaced out; dog entries are spaced out; and very importantly, the end is just as important as the beginning.
I usually have a theme and grand marshal in mind a year or more ahead. Last year, I planned out themes and grand marshals through 2018. The 2018 parade will be in keeping with the deeply historic nature of the ‘hood and with the city’s 300th birthday.
- 2007 Rick Riordan, local author; Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, and the adult mystery series Tres Navarre
- 2008 Rose Catacalos, poet and former Executive Director of Gemini Ink
- 2009 Jump Start Theatre and Magik Theatre, serving together
- 2010 Alan Cash & Mary Ann Ohlenbusch, local gardeners who had planted more than 500 (free) trees in the ‘hood & surrounding area, helping to water until established (lugging water mind you)
- 2011 Villa Finale & the Spirit of Walter Mathis
- 2012 Honoring King William Kids. Two students from Brackenridge High, two from Page Middle School, and two from Bonham Academy.
- 2013 Carmen Tafolla, SA’s 1st Poet Laureate
- 2014 Blue Star Brewery, street construction survivor extraordinaire
- 2015 San Antonio Symphony
- 2016 Michael Girdley, King Geek, founder Codeup
R: Volunteers for major parts of the Fair are usually called “chairs.” Why didn’t you stick with being called the parade chair?
S: Because that’s no fun! Plus, it was really more accurate to say I was herding cats. Then I thought about rodeo clowns. They keep the bucking broncos from going where they shouldn’t; they keep the bucking broncos away from fallen cow-persons. That’s how I got the idea that I would be called the Chief Parade Wrangler, and the Roller Derby would be the Wranglers.
R: I know how much work the parade is; why do you keep volunteering?
S: Basically, I’m a quiet sort of person, keep to myself a lot. I enjoyed organizing the parade and decided that I would keep doing it to force myself outside of my self-imposed circle of activity.
R: Well, there’s an answer that I didn’t expect from such a vibrant person! I think I can speak for the entire neighborhood and maybe the entire city by saying “thank you” for the last ten years.
S: Thank you; I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I’m also grateful to my son, Ryan Orsinger, for being “The Gopher” and to John Doski for being my current second in command as “Doc the Knife.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mark Schwartzman, “The Colonel,” who was my very first second in command. I’m looking forward to another great parade.