Tom Elliott was named the 2017 Winter Wonderland Grand Marshal during a reception on Sunday, Nov. 19 at the pavilion. Elliott recently retired after 42 and a half years as the Superintendent of Parks at the Pekin Park District.

Chairperson for Winter Wonderland Carol Davis said the committee had asked Elliott several times in the past to be the grand marshal, but he would always say that he wanted to wait until he retired. She said it was an easy choice this year and they “got him.”

Several people spoke during the reception, including his long-time colleague and fellow retiree the former Pekin Park District Superintendent of Recreation Terri Gambetti. She recalled fond memories of Elliott and thanked him for all he has done for the community.

“It’s a great day to honor Tom Elliott who is one of the kindest gentlemen I know,” said Gambetti. “In 1988, Tom approached me about the Christmas trees and decided to light them up. Tom is always behind the scenes, but I tell you what he’s the guy who makes it happen.”

Gary Gillis, vice president of the Board of Commissioners for the Pekin Park District, spoke next and unveiled a decades old secret. He revealed that for 28 of the 30 years that Gillis wrote the clues for the Medallion Hunt, Elliott was the one who hid the Pekin Marigold Festival medallion. Gillis said he had asked Elliott to take on the responsibility because he knew he could trust Elliott.

“It’s about time,” said Gillis. “It’s fitting that we’re in a community (that will) honor a community icon. In all the years (Elliott) served, he always spoke up for the right thing.”

Elliott was moved to hear the kind words from those he worked with and those he knew personally. 

“With all those nice things, I guess I don’t need a funeral,” Elliott said. “It’s always been enjoyable working at the park. It was always fun to work on the trees and Winter Wonderland.”

Elliott said Santa came into the shop the Monday after Winter Wonderland one year and told him about a child who came in and asked Santa for a car for his mom. As it turned out, another park employee, Gloria Fangmeier, was going to get a new car and said if someone fixed her old car she would donate it. The park employees pooled their money to get the car fixed and that mom got a new car from Santa that Christmas.

Elliott is looking forward to Winter Wonderlanda and especially seeing the trees — all 400 of them this year. He loves the beauty of the lights and said he thinks the best time to see them is around 5:30 or 6 a.m.

This year the lights were put up by fifth graders at Washington Intermediate School and Wilson Intermediate School, said Davis. She said that everything will be the same this year as last year. There will be many events going on starting at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26 in Mineral Springs Park.

The candy cane hunt will be on Ball Diamond #1, which is free for children 2 years old to 12 years old. Santa will be in the pavilion from 1 to 3 p.m. but will leave for a short time after to be in the parade. Once the parade is over, he will return to hear children’s wish lists. 

After the candy cane hunt is finished, Rockin’ P Public Riding Ranch will offer pony rides until 5 p.m. The Lions Club of Pekin will be set up on Pavilion Drive serving refreshments.

Davis said the parade will start at 3:30 p.m. at 9th Street and Broadway Street. The route will head east on Broadway, travel through the park and end at the pavilion. At 5:15, Christmas carols will be sung, and at 5:30 p.m. the fireworks will begin.