Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips<br> Morgan Tormey rides on her father Brian's shoulders as they walk around Suwanee Day 2010 on Saturday. Thousands showed up to eat, watch live entertainment and shop in downtown at Suwanee Center Park.
SUWANEE -- The day dawned warm and sunny on Saturday, welcoming Suwanee's 26th annual Suwanee Day Festival and Parade. The size and scope of the much-anticipated celebration has grown considerably since the first one in 1984, one year before the city got its first traffic signal.
This year's theme -- "A Celebration of Community" -- lived up to its billing, with Suwanee's Town Center Park filled to capacity with arts and crafts vendors, inflatables, face painting, airbrush tattoo artists and an impressive variety of food choices. Thousands of visitors strolled among the tents and enjoyed the food and entertainment by the time the day drew to a close with a concert by John Berry, and a fireworks display.
A 10 a.m. parade kicked off the day's festivities, with parents, grandparents and children lining the streets along the parade route. Many visitors brought their dogs to join in the fun. Area high school bands, cheerleaders and even Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus in their red Mercedes-Benz appeared in the procession.
John Wallace, an 18-year resident of the city, recalled earlier Suwanee Day festivals and their more modest beginnings.
"I've probably been to 15 of these. I remember when the festival was held over there," said Wallace, pointing to the area behind the Crossroads Center near the cemetery. "For a few years, it was held in Old Town Suwanee, up until they built Town Center Park."
Wallace laughed, recounting those early days when it always seemed to rain on the festival, and visitors slogged around in the mud. That was when Suwanee Day used to fall in May. In 1990, the decision was made to move the celebration to a September date.
"I like it better now, because everything is right here together. The weather is usually nice, too," Wallace said.
As soon as the parade was over, a steady stream of entertainers took the stage in the park's amphitheater. The Taiwanese Drumline started things off onstage. Competition cheerleaders, martial arts exhibitors, dancers and bands followed one another throughout the day.
Lauren Mutari, one of many volunteers on hand Saturday, moved to Suwanee only two weeks ago.
"I got online, Googled 'Suwanee,' and 'Suwanee Day' was the first thing that came up. I read about it and found out how to volunteer. It's a great way to meet people and get involved."
Vendors, numbering more than 200, ranged from arts and crafts designers, to a church raising money to dig wells in Haiti, to banks, local businesses and sports teams, including the Gwinnett Braves. One of the highlights for people of all ages in the crowd Saturday was the appearance of Travis Lofland, a deckhand on the crab boat Wizard, featured on the hit show "Deadliest Catch."
Another important Suwanee Day highlight was the introduction of the city's new mascot -- Parker the Dog. Parker made himself right at home, meeting and greeting visitors both young and old throughout the day.
Two-year-old Elliana Clark enjoyed Suwanee Day with her mom Ann and little sister Emersyn, and with grandparents Julie and Tom Essenburg. Asked what she liked most about the parade, Elliana answered, "the fire engines, and the candy." Tom, holding 3-month-old Emersyn, remarked that the crowd Saturday was "just a great balance of local businesses and area residents. I like the diversity; everyone from the community is represented here."
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 69th regimen and just home from Iraq, were the city's honored guests Saturday. When introduced, the soldiers received a standing ovation from the crowd. Mayor Dave Williams and all of Suwanee's residents were presented with a plaque picturing the flag that flew over the 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade in Iraq.