Grandson of Christmas City Parade Creator Shares History

Christmas City Parade Santa

Santa Clause at Christmas City Parade, Duluth

As I was searching for interesting facts about the Christmas City Parade, I was fortunate to stumble on an interesting conversation at PerfectDuluthDay.com. Last year, Perfect Duluth Day had shared the parade information with its readers, which sparked a variety of comments, memories and stories.

Perhaps the most interesting comment was that of Chris Rich–grandson of Christmas City Parade creator, Bob Rich. He tells a wonderful story about how the parade got started, how the music was created and how the Christmas City Parade has grown to become the premier Christmas event in Duluth, MN. Thank you to Paul at Perfect Duluth Day for giving us permission to republish Chris Rich’s story here:

My name is Chris Rich and I am the grandson of Bob Rich, the creator of the parade. My grandpa created the parade back in 1957.

It was created because Thanksgiving fell late in November that year and the shopping time for the local businesses had been shrunk by about a week. So my grandfather being an avid lover of Christmas, thought to have a parade the Friday before Thanksgiving to lengthen the “Christmas Season” and have an event for everyone to come downtown to gather and shop and to help the local shops and retailers.

The turnout and response was fantastic and the parade has been held every year on the Friday before Thanksgiving for the last 52 years. The only exception was in 1963, the year JFK was assassinated. The parade was to be held the following week but was cancelled due to the tremendous national tragedy.

The parade started relatively small, and continued to grow each year due to the tremendous appreciation the great people of Duluth and the northland showed for it.

As the years progressed and after my grandfather became the owner of WDSM which he turned into KBJR-TV, they incorporated different events at the old Armory building and the DECC. Some of the new activates were Toyland, a kids winter wonderland; and Operation Rudolph, a program pre-dating Toys for Tot’s, where people would bring in anonymous toys for under privileged children and the station employees would deliver them to various homes further broadening the term that had come to define the people of the Northland and had also become synonymous with Duluth a TRUE Christmas City!

In the early 1960s a gentleman by the name of Don Peterson approached my grandfather with two songs he had written for the parade. “Christmas City” the up-beat toe tapping song that you can’t help but sing along with and “The Song of the Christmas City” a more slow tribute with a jazz feel similar to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

My grandfather then asked a friend of his, Merv Griffin, if he would sing the songs and put it to music. This was well before Mr. Griffin had become the successful TV personality and media man that he would later become. Both Merv and his wife flew to Duluth, met with my grandparents and stayed at their house on London Road. Merv took the sheet music back to a recording studio in New York City where both songs we pressed on a 45rpm record with full big band orchestras. Merv’s wife also sang in one of the songs.

The parade had truly become a great event and was one of my grandpa’s favorite things and something he took tremendous pride in. He loved seeing all the kids enjoying the parade and getting to see Santa and all the other things that the event had manifested into. It is an honor to our entire family that the city and KBJR still conduct the parade some 20 years after my grandpa sold the TV station and some 15 years after his death.

Shortly after selling KBJR he purchased another TV station in the Melbourne/Vero Beach area of Florida WIRB-TV. He wanted to bring the same Christmas spirit to the people of that city as well. And he did. The first televised Christmas City of the South Parade was held in November 1994.

My grandfather died that following week on December 4, 1994 of a heart attack. My father, Rob Rich and grandmother, Betty Rich were with him at the time.

Bob Rich was a really good man and enjoyed giving and loved the spirit of Christmas and seeing how everyone comes together during this time of year. He especially loved the city and people of Duluth!

Story submitted to Perfect Day Duluth on November 29, 2009. Perfect Duluth Day is a community blog for Duluthians to share information about the events, history and culture of the area. Check them out.

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