Jack Wallin, the 2018 Garden Grove Strawberry Festival parade Theme Grand Marshal, has served continuously on the festival board for 60 years. He recalls how the event came to be and the early days of the festival.
Wallin says before 1958 the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce had a strawberry festival with parade but it was not a fund raiser, rather it was put on as a community service. There were rides and lots of strawberries. When the Chamber decided not to do it any more, a few people from the community formed the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Association as a non-profit in 1958 and moved it to Garden Grove Park at Westminster and Magnolia Boulevards. They set up a 100 foot row of tents for vendor booths and had carnival rides outside it. “When it rained one year, we had to poke holes in the tents to drain accumulated water and keep them from collapsing,” he says. “There were many food booths because the festival was very food-oriented. Service clubs were involved then too.” There was even a circus in those days. “The newspaper wanted a photo of a board member near the lions cage,” he laughingly remembers, “and I volunteered. The photographer told me to get up on the cage trailer for a better shot, then as a joke someone prodded the lion with a pole and he let a huge roar. I took off so fast and I don’t think I stopped running until I reached Westminster!”
They had real helicopter rides that flew people over the area, Wallin recalls, and revenues were allocated as they are today, benefiting local charities. He helped drill holes and put in posts for an exciting overhead gondola ride which afforded an aerial view of the park. Following that, there were other rides for three or four years and a rodeo until some rodeo guy took off with a bunch of money. The event was held at Bolsa Grande High School in the football field and drew good crowds. They had a “Battle of the Bands” where different high school bands and some outside bands competed. The festival even put on a tennis tournament in town and handed out trophies, it sponsored a hole-in-one contest, and invited musical groups to play.
Initially, the parade went down Brookhurst to Westminster Boulevard, and later the route changed, moving from Euclid to Westminster Boulevard and ending at Garden Grove Park. Lee Walters, an advertising executive, got celebrities for the parade and the first grand marshal was film star Francis X. Bushman. Walters put on a talent competition and a young and not-yet-famous Steve Martin won the top award. Senator Robert Kennedy rode in the festival parade the day before he went to Los Angeles where he was killed.
In the 1960s Wallin took a gutsy chance and stepped in when some guys tried to run down a policeman. He jumped on the car speeding away, grabbed the steering wheel and turned it into the curb. The guy was caught, but Wallin ended up in the hospital for a few days. “I was young and foolish in those days,” he says.
These days Jack Wallin, 89 years old, works at Kiwanisland where he tends the grounds, doing the mowing and trimming himself, and handling reservations for the community room. He was Park Superintendent for the City of Garden Grove for 20 years until he retired on disability from a work injury. During his tenure he helped build six parks and worked on the Willowick Golf Course. He currently serves on the Garden Grove Parks Commission. He has lived in Garden Grove since 1956 when the city was incorporated. He and his wife, Marge have five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Wallin says the festival board always has had good members who have gotten along well with each other and with the city of Garden Grove, making it the envy of other local organizations. He stayed on the board because he liked the people and because it was for a good cause: helping local charities. Donations to date have topped $7 million. Every year since being on the board, Wallin spends two solid weeks setting up the festival as board member in charge of grounds and rides. He coordinates layout and ride setup with the carnival company, and he works the grounds all four days of the huge Memorial Day weekend event. Wallin says he’s honored to have been part of an organization for the past 60 years that has done so much good for the community. “Last year alone we raised over $300,000 for local charities,” he says. “We’ve helped so many kids through our donations, and their having booths where they raise lots of money for youth projects. It’s very gratifying.” He says he looks forwards to the board meetings and will resign when he physically can no longer do his job.
In addition to the festival board, Wallin has worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Garden Grove, the Soroptimist Club and others, and has been honored many times for his outstanding community service. Among his awards are:
Cypress College Americana Citizen of the Year from Garden Grove – 2001
Garden Grove Man of the Year – 1983
Garden Grove Kiwanian of the Year – 1989
Garden Grove Elks Lodge Citizen of the Year – 1991-92