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The Man Behind The Lights

This article is part of our ongoing ‘Git Er Done Award Series

Updated Dec. 15, 2014 at bottom of page

For another year in a row, vehicles decked out in Christmas lights made their rounds on the streets of downtown Globe last night. Even in the pelting rain, the sidewalks were packed with people watching Globe’s annual light parade carry on. With 43 entries and more than 100 moving parts, this year’s parade, themed “Broad Street Glitters,” was one of the larger ones to make its way through Globe.

Ed Gardea is one person to thank for that.

Gardea was easy to spot on his well-lit bike yesterday, clipboard in hand, riding along the parade route before start time.
Gardea was easy to spot on his well-lit bike yesterday, clipboard in hand, riding along the parade route before start time. Photo by Jenn Walker

You may know him as the longtime manager of Ortega’s Shoes, which he began managing in 1988, or as the former president of the Historic Globe Main Street Program. Perhaps you recognize him as a member of the public safety board for the local fire department. You might have spotted him working on one of the sets for a play at the Center for the Arts, or scrubbing down tables with his family for a downtown event. Or, maybe you know him as a coach for Globe’s AYSO soccer league, Globe’s High School varsity soccer team, or the Piranhas swim team.

However, this busy man is also the founder and chairman of the light parade, and he has just guided the popular event through its 18th year.

It all started back in the ‘90s, when Gardea moved back to downtown Globe.

“Every year, they had Santa come to town six or seven times,” the Globe native remembers.

Meanwhile, Gardea had watched the impressive light parade put on in Douglas on several occasions. It inspired him to pose a question to the members of the Main Street Program.

“Why don’t we have a light parade instead of Santa coming to town four times this month?” he asked.

Donna Anderson, the president of Main Street Program at the time, swiftly replied, “That’s a great idea Ed, you’re in charge.”

Suddenly Gardea had a Globe parade to organize. He wasted no time advertising. He hand-drew a poster of three carolers and had Oasis Printing print copies. (The original poster design is still used on parade applications.) He made press releases and gave them to local radio stations like KIKO.

“We would go and talk on it and try to drum up business,” he remembers. “KISS was fairly new then, they had just started, but we would put out news press releases and just ask.”

The word spread. APS decorated a vehicle. So did the City of Globe, the highway department, the fire department, the city police, and Gila County Search and Rescue. Of course, Gardea entered a float for Ortega’s Shoes.

Compared to the turnout these days, the first light parade had a modest turnout.

“I think there was only a dozen of us in that initial parade,” Gardea remembers.

But as years passed, the light parade’s turnout continued to grow.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” he says.

The year of Desert Storm set a precedent for Globe’s light parade. As local troops were deployed, it was probably the largest parade to date. There were 50-plus entries in the parade that year, Gardea recalls. That meant even more vehicles parading down the streets, because one entry alone can include many vehicles.

“It was way more than we could handle,” he remembers. “That parade was so big that it just set the standard from then on. It was just a huge parade.”

“Christmas Around the Globe” was the theme that year. One of the entries included a giant semi hauling a scud missile on the back. Written along the side of it was the words, “To Saddam, with love.”

“That thing must have been 40 feet long,” Gardea laughs.

Year after year, in between managing Ortega’s, coaching multiple soccer teams, raising three kids, and more, Gardea organizes the parade, trying to include as many people as possible. There is no limit to how many people can enter. Days beforehand, he  had yet to find out how many entrants were in this year’s parade–he was still accepting applications.

“You know what, it’s Globe, and we don’t know until the last minute,” he says with a laugh. “A week ahead of time, we may have six, seven entries. I have people sticking stuff underneath the store door on Saturday morning, asking ‘can we still enter?’”

Once applications are in, Gardea has to figure out how to spread out and mix bands and musical groups, dance groups,

Gardea rode around to each group of participants to make sure they knew the drill. Photo by Jenn Walker
Gardea rode around checking on each group of participants to make sure things were running smoothly. Photo by Jenn Walker

marching bands, single vehicles, semis and trailers over set distances. Of course, Santa brings up the rear.

“Then I go out there, and I actually physically mark it on the street. If that first entry is 50 feet long, then I have to go back 60 paces to start entry number two,” Gardea explains. “So it’s quite the process. I spend a good time at night trying to line up the parade, and then I get up early on Saturday morning, and I go mark the parade route on the street.”

Then, once the parade begins, Gardea is at the starting line pacing it.

What all of this means, unfortunately, is that Gardea doesn’t see his hard work play out.

“I’ve never seen the light parade… Never.”

Neither do the other volunteers who are out helping, he points out. Every year, there are handfuls of volunteers joining forces to make this parade happen.

“I mean, it’s work. You have street traffic, people trying to go around the barricades, you’re trying to get people in their places. There are people that come into it backwards. There are people that break down,” Gardea explains. “It’s dangerous because there’s cars moving, there’s big floats, it’s hard to see, and you’re trying to squeeze them in.”

Of course, it’s all worthwhile.

“You go work that parade route, and you just see all the kids. Their eyeballs are just this big” he laughs, motioning with his hands. “They’re so excited to see Santa and see all the lights. It’s one of the great things about being in a small town–we’re able to pull this off.”

His hope, he adds, is that young people will continue this tradition into the future.

Note: We will be updating this page with this year’s light parade winners and the list of this year’s volunteers. 

Update:

Best Use of Lights: Gila Valley Off Road Club

Best Commercial Entry: Copper State Sanitation

Best Overall Lighted Vehicle: Dr. Ruesch’s Model A

Best Local Organization/Club/Group: Gila County 4-H

Best Use of Theme: Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center

Best Mounted Rider or Group: Copper Country Drill Team

Best Musical Presentation: Miami High School Marching Band

Jolly Good Show Award: Summer Youth Musical Theater Program

Best Holiday Heart Award: Relay For Life

Volunteer Crew: Greg Szpotowski, David Polkabla, Ruth Oviedo, Greg Anderson, Quinn Anderson, Katie Gardea, Geri Gardea, Noah Gardea, Nico Gardea, Gang at Ortega’s Shoes

About Jenn Walker

Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.

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