Thursday | October 19, 2017
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Royal Parade carries on traditions of Merrie Monarch Festival

For more information on the parade, the Miss Aloha Hula contest, a full schedule of events, and much more, visit

After last year’s blowout for the Merrie Monarch Festival’s 50th anniversary, organizers of this year’s parade say they’ll be scaling back to a more manageable size.

However, while the number of participants and the total time of the event may be reduced, the parade will continue to provide all the favorite entries that have made it such a well-loved Hawaii Island tradition, said Missy Kaleohano, the parade coordinator.

“Last year’s, from the first lead car out the gate to the fire truck at the very end returning to the stage area was about 2.5 hours. This year, it’ll be just over an hour for an individual watching. … We still have a lot of floats and individuals participating,” she said. “As of (March 28), we have 97 units signed up, representing 60-plus organizations.

“We expect (the parade) this year to be a little softer, mainly because the 50th was such a huge push and we had many participants who were specific to that event. Also, there will be the construction along Kamehameha.”

Kaleohano said that the county Department of Public Works and Isemoto Contracting — which is performing the renovation work that has reduced Kamehameha Avenue to two lanes — have both gone out of their way to accommodate this year’s parade.

“There are some points with metal plates on the road, which the horses won’t walk over, so they have made a point of either removing the plates, or if there are any, they’ll make sure they are covered with backfill so the horses will go over them,” she said.

The soccer fields and commuter parking lots along the road will be open, she added, but attendees will have to access them via Bayfront Highway, since the two makai lanes of Kamehameha are closed.

This year, the parade route will remain largely the same as in past years, but next year, once the Kamehameha work has progressed, the route will have to be cut short.

Selected as this year’s grand marshal is recently retired executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, George Applegate.

“During his tenure as executive director, George was responsible for growing the bureau’s support of the festival which continues to the present day,” Kaleohano said.

Applegate said he was humbled by the honor, saying that he remembered attending Merrie Monarch festivies when he was 3 years old.

“I’m absolutely overwhelmed about being selected,” he said. “Honestly, I thought they should be looking at somebody else. I’ve never thought of myself as being that, but I’ve always respected the festival and wanted to help grow it and promote it.”

He added that he’s been thrilled to watch the event grow in appeal and stature over the years, along with a “Renaissance” in Hawaiian culture and Hawaii Island’s place as a worldwide tourism destination.

“(The Merrie Monarch Festival), it’s not just some tourist event. It’s about a sense of place, and culture. Merrie Monarch began and it remains the No. 1 event, in my opinion, as the thing that brought back a sense of pride in Hawaii and Hawaiian culture. … I’m just so proud and grateful that I’ve been able to serve.”

Another highlight of this year’s parade, as it is every year, will be the court of Pa‘u Princess riders. A total of six are scheduled to appear on horseback in the parade, adorned in their colorful floral costumes. This year’s Pa‘u Marshal will be Richard “Casey” Desilva Sr., and the Pa‘u Queen will be Renette U‘ilani Haili-Soares.

Another highlight will be Hilo resident Daryl “Sammie” Sampaga, a man suffering from muscular dystrophy who made headlines this year when he walked around the Big Isle in an effort to spread awareness about the disease.

Meanwhile, new entrant Big Island Biodiesel, will field four vehicles powered by biodiesel for the parade, Kaleohano said.

The 51st annual Merrie Monarch Festival Royal Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


George Applegate joined the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, Big Island Chapter in 1989 as director of sales and marketing; he was named executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau in 2000. During his tenure as executive director, George was responsible for growing the bureau’s support of the festival which continues to present day. George began his career in Hawaii’s hospitality industry more than 40 years ago as a bellman for the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo. Prior to joining the Bureau, he served as vice president of Big Island Tours of Hawaii, offering tours of the island’s most spectacular attractions. Big Island Tours donated the first telescope presented to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station. George has served as a board member of the Moku o Keawe Festival, and as a committee member of the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s College of Business and Economics. He retired from the Bureau in 2013 and continues to be active in the industry as a consultant.


James Richard DeSilva Sr. was born in Hilo in 1931 and grew up on a ranch in Kaiwiki on the island of Hawaii for the first several years of his life. He learned about horses from his father who was a race horse jockey, and his uncles who had a riding academy in Hilo. From a young age he enjoyed training horses and breaking them in. He gravitated to bucking horses and had a reputation for riding any bucking bronc in the islands, earning his nickname, Casey, after the world champion Casey Tibbs, from other cowboys. Eventually he would become the champion saddle bronc rider in Hawaii himself. The first ranch Casey worked on was Hanaipoe, and over the years he worked on other ranches including the Shipman, Nobriga, Pu‘u ‘O‘o, Hualalai, and Pu‘u Wa‘a Wa‘a Ranches as well. Casey recently retired from the business of buying, selling and training horses but has not retired his love of these magnificent animals. He now lives in Ka‘u with his wife Blossom and remains active with the Ka‘u Roping & Riding club.


Renette U‘ilani Haili-Soares is the wife of Melvin G. Soares Jr.; together they have six children and six grandchildren. Her parents are Rodney and Pearl (Kalua) Haili, and her mother Pearl has been riding pa‘u for eighteen years. U‘ilani is honored and privileged to carry her mother’s legacy by riding pa‘u for the past nine years. She is thankful to her husband, children, ohana, friends, and church family for their years of dedication, hard work, and prayers. Uncle Johnny Lum Ho instilled in U‘ilani the passion and love for her Hawaiian culture, and she wishes to thank him as well. Most importantly U‘ilani wants to thank her Heavenly Father for always being the light in her unit that she shares with the people of Hawaii.


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