BALL GROUND — This year, Tim Cavender is marking his 40th anniversary of donning a red suit and a white beard to spread holiday spirit, and in true Santa Claus fashion he wants the milestone to be a memorable one for all good boys and girls.
“In recognition of my 40th year of portraying Santa Claus, I have put together an event called the March of the Toys Parade for Toys for Tots,” Cavender said. “We are collecting a lot of toys this year for under-privileged children. I can’t imagine a child waking on Christmas morning and not finding a new toy to play with.”
The parade is in downtown Ball Ground on Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. and those who come to watch the parade can bring an unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots.
Santa Cavender has enlisted the help of a man who for decades also brought joy to children, but in a different way.
“Officer Don” Kennedy, the popular host of “The Popeye Club” children’s show produced by WSB-TV in the 1950s and 1960s is the grand marshal of the parade.
The show aired weekday afternoons at 4:30 p.m. and Kennedy appeared as police officer “Officer Don.” A live studio audience of children from the Atlanta area comprised the peanut gallery or audience.
“Officer Don has been a big pull for people. Santa Claus brings in the children, but I wanted something that would appeal to the older ones as well,” Cavender said. “Like a lot of people, I watched him as a child and I contacted him and asked him if he was interested in doing it.”
Cavender said it took a little persuasion to get Kennedy, who is now in his 80s, to agree.
“He said people may have forgotten him, but I asked people on Facebook what they thought and they said they would love to see him, and he agreed to go ahead and do it,” Cavender said.
While several hundred people usually show up for the annual Ball Ground parade, Cavender said this year he expects many more people. Already more than 300 have responded on Facebook that they plan to attend, and if each of those brings one or two family members, that could push it close to 1,000, he said.
In addition to Officer Don, the parade will feature a reproduction of the 1966 Batmobile, a reproduction of Andy Griffith’s patrol car, the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, the Atlanta Pirates Guild, the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion of Star Wars Characters, the Atlanta Falcon cheerleaders, Civil War re-enactors, the Twilight Twirlers of Cobb County, the Marietta Derby Darlins and more.
The United States Marine Corps Color Guard will also help lead the parade and collect the donated toys.
Cavender said parade organizers are working to recreate the set from the Popeye Club in a vacant building on Main Street owned by Judson Roberts. Andy Fowler is heading up the project.
In addition to showing Popeye cartoons, the Popeye Club show featured a number of games. The one that is labeled the most popular was the Ooey Gooey Bag game, where participants would stick their hands in a brown paper bag and hope to get a prize like a cream-filled cupcake. But if they chose the wrong bag, all the children yelled out “Ooey Gooey” when the child pulled out a hand covered in goo.
“We are recreating that game, and the Ooey Gooey bag, we figured out it was filled with Bosco chocolate syrup, eggs and flour,’ Cavender said. “Kids can go in and visit with Officer Don and there will be photos of him to sign, and he will be available for photos with the children.”
Fowler is also recreating Orville the Green Dragon, Kennedy’s sidekick on the show, which was created by puppeteer Terry Kelly and often played practical jokes on Officer Don.
Cavender said that he remembers meeting Officer Don in Canton when he was young.
“I remember seeing him at Kessler’s, I was standing at the candy counter and he came in and signed autographs,” Cavender said. “People like that were major stars to us, so these people were really important to us.”
Cavender, whose wife Pam Cavender assists him each year as Mrs. Santa, said the jolly elf himself always held a major place of importance to the community also.
“When Santa came in by helicopter you would think Elvis was arriving,” Cavender said.
At age 15, when he still attended Cherokee High School, Cavender said he was pressed into service as Santa for the school assembly.
”I didn’t want to do it. I thought I would be murdered. But I agreed to do it, and then I found out how much fun it was and the reaction I got,” he said.
Line up for the parade will take place at Ball Ground Elementary School. Those interested in participating in the parade can contact Nancy Butterworth at email@example.com or call (770) 924-2176.
For updated information on the parade, visit the parade’s Facebook Events page.