By ANGIE CARNATHAN
The Starkville Community “Christmas in Candyland” Parade begins at 6 p.m. tonight and will be lead by the Keenums, Mississippi State University’s first family. MSU President Mark Keenum, his wife Rhonda Keenum and their four children — Rett, Mary Philips, Katie and Torie — are serving as grand marshals this year.
The parade will begin along Russell Street, turn at Montgomery Street toward University Drive and continue west down Main Street. MSU’s Famous Maroon Band and cheerleaders, along with a host of floats, walking groups and other representatives of various local businesses and organizations are also participating in the parade.
For the first time in a decade, the Greater Starkville Development Partnership is teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce Board, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Main Street Association to build a float for the parade.
“This is the first year that the partnership has done a float, or at least the first one in 10 years, so we’re really excited to represent the partnership,” GSDP Vice President of Tourism Development Jennifer Gregory said.
Mark Keenum said the family is looking forward to leading such a beloved local tradition.
“Since returning to Starkville, we have enjoyed being involved in activities to support the community,” Mark Keenum said. “Starkville is not only a wonderful home for our great university; it is also a wonderful place to raise a family. Being a part of the Christmas parade will be a special memory for our entire family.”
Ward 5 Alderman and CVB Chairman Jeremiah Dumas, along with Vice President of Membership and Chamber of Commerce Austin Shafer, helped with the GSDP float. Dumas said he believes city leaders need to show support for community events.
“The GSDP has just put such a major effort into getting our city beautiful and festive this year. Between the new Christmas tree that’s going to be lit after the parade and the new decorations, we decided we needed to revamp the parade as well. If we want people to get involved in the Christmas spirit it helps for us to get our own house in order and show them that we’re willing to put forth the effort, too,” Dumas said.
Mark Keenum joined the university faculty in 1984 as a marketing specialist with the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service. He is the 19th chief executive of Mississippi’s largest institution of higher learning. He became president in January 2009, following a distinguished public service career, after completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at MSU.
Rhonda Keenum, an MSU alumna, is a founding partner of The WIT Group, a Washington public affairs firm specializing in strategic counsel, government relations and communication services.
Rhonda Keenum is from Boonevile and formerly served as director of the White House’s Office of Public Liaison. She also served as deputy assistant to the president during the George W. Bush administration. She formerly served as an undersecretary of commerce for the International Trade Administration.
The lighting of the Community Christmas Tree will take place immediately following the parade and Mayor Parker Wiseman will be speaking. For more information, visit http://visit.starkville.org .