The parade’s 32-year history has seen ebbs and shifts, but has persisted under the watchful eyes of a handful of people who served as chairmen over the years turning the annual parade into a tradition.

As winter approaches and the holiday season alights, Lake Ozark will celebrate its own traditions with theme of “Christmas Through the Years” for the 32nd Lake Ozark Christmas Parade on the Bagnell Dam Strip. The parade kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 starting at Routes HH-Rt. 242. 

The theme showcases an important year for the city with 2016 marking the 50th anniversary of Lake Ozark’s incorporation, the 10th year of Johnnie Franzeskos’ term as mayor and the 40th anniversary for two businesses that have contributed, in part, to what makes the Bagnell Dam Strip historic. 

Mayor Franzeskos was chosen as Grand Marshal this year and will lead the parade with his wife, Courtney, in the world-champion 48-foot catamaran from Wake Effects, a new addition this year courtesy of David Place. 

Johnnie and Courtney Franzeskos were catalysts for the city’s celebration of its 50th anniversary in August. One important aspect of that celebration was the burial of a time capsule near City Hall, brimming with information and artifacts from present times in Lake Ozark. 

Mayor Franzeskos said, “The time capsule was my wife Courtney's idea and we had so much fun getting it done. It won't be opened for 50 years. I would have loved to be around in August 2066 to see the reaction with all the memorabilia that was placed inside. Also to see what the city and the Strip progressed to. It will be an exciting time.” 

Back in the present, Franzeskos expresses his gratitude, “I am so blessed to be part of the City and its growth. We have more businesses and improvements coming to the Strip.” 

Johnnie and Courtney retired to Lake Ozark in April 2004 and the next year Johnnie ran for Ward 2 alderman, won, served a first term and ran for mayor. 

“Courtney and I just love it here. We have met and made so very many friends over the years. We couldn't ask for a better place to live.” 

With five terms under his belt, Franzeskos reflects upon Lake Ozark through his years in office, saying “All of the growth and improvements to the City couldn't have been done without teamwork and all of the hard work of business owners and office staff working together to achieve the same goal to make the city a tourist destination again. I look forward to the future, seeing its progress through continued work and visions of all the things that can be done to keep the City of Lake Ozark thriving for future generations.” 

The parade’s 32-year history has seen ebbs and shifts, but has persisted under the watchful eyes of a handful of people who served as chairmen over the years turning the annual parade into a tradition. 

Current parade chairman Jeff Van Donsel, owner of Rockwood Resort, explains, “We do this for the kids. It’s basically to give locals a chance to come together and celebrate the holidays. For some of the kids, seeing Santa is a big deal. Maybe they don’t get so many presents under their tree and this event gives us a chance to give to the community and to the kids who might not get so much for Christmas.” 

Linda Berchem and husband Don Roelofs run Old Time Photos, established in 1976, a perennial favorite to many vacationers. Berchem has long been involved in Lake Ozark’s special events. 

Looking back at their years in the city, Berchem said, “One of the threads that I see in Lake Ozark's history is that the community has always helped each other - that’s the basis for lots of stories. One church helping build the other, business folks helping build another's building, helping out in time of fire. And one just needs to read local papers and online news to see how many groups and organizations work to help others.” 

Reflecting on the parade’s evolution through the decades, Berchem said, "Lots of Lake Ozark people have put time into making the parade work year after year. We owe a big debt to Judy Noser and her late husband Sarge, who put more years of work into the parade than anyone else.”

Old Time Photos has evolved into a generational family business through daughters Laura Wilson and Mary Van Houten, both active in the business as well as in Lake Ozark special events. Van Houten currently serves as chairman of Halloween on the Strip and as Elf Numero Uno preparing for and helping Santa distribute toys and treats. Wilson contributes her talents as a graphic designer to Lake Ozark special events. 

Van Houten reflects, “The Christmas parade is special to me. I've been involved with it my entire life from being an elf, on a Girl Scout float, a clown, painting faces and now as Santa’s helper. My favorite part of the night is seeing all the kids faces light up when they see Santa.” 

Thinking to the future, Van Houten says of her preschool daughter, “I look forward to Piper being involved as well.” 

Another family business that still exists is The Leatherman, opened by Mike Page, also in 1976, with his brother, Joe. 

In time, Page became the sole proprietor of The Leatherman and expanded, taking over the adjacent businesses of Dogpatch and Grandma’s Candy Kitchen, perpetuating the nostalgia of Lake Ozark history while looking to its future. Page’s involvement in special events began with what was an annual spring event called “Lake Fest” in the 1980s. 

He’s been involved ever since, and has built a reputation as the soft-spoken leader. Eleven months of the year Lake Ozark offers at least one special event and in each you will find the involvement of Mike Page. From sponsor to committee chair to seasonal decorations to finding the right talent for a job, Page extends a helping hand in each. Page says “Our Lake Ozark events are good for the community, businesses and the Lake as a whole. Our local tourism is becoming more event driven, and these activities bring in people who wouldn’t ordinarily be here. It’s always great to see our Lake Ozark residents, business people and city staff working together to make each event a success.” 

Through the years Santa has visited with the children in a few locations, each significant and unique to Lake Ozark. For many years, Santa was tucked in warmly at the White House. Last year he was on the stage down by the Osage River, below Bagnell Dam. 

Last year the Community Bonfire, an old tradition that had previously been the holiday season opener, was reinstituted on parade day to round out the activities for an inviting outdoor experience. This year, the Iguana Group has generously opened the gates to Two-Bit Town for the post-parade activities. Santa and the Community Bonfire will be featured in the Two-Bit Town street setting immediately following the parade, with hot chocolate, hot coffee, s’mores and cookies. 

This iconic tourist attraction has provided memories for many families. The Iguana Group’s involvement in Lake Ozark bridges the past with the present and into the future. Taking on restoration projects, such as Chief Bagnell and the Shoreland Motel, Iguana Group has a commitment to refurbishing some of the historic elements on their properties, in tandem with looking toward the future of the city. 

Heading to the close of this memorable year for Lake Ozark, “Christmas Through the Years” parades the businesses, organizations and citizens of the community with a look back to its colorful past and a glance forward to an optimistic future.