HATTIESBURG, MS (THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI) – When former University of Southern Mississippi presidents Aubrey Lucas and Shelby Thames were students at the school in the 1950s, its homecoming parade was a much-anticipated event in historic downtown Hattiesburg.
After a nearly 40-year absence, this year's Centennial Homecoming Celebration parade is set to return to downtown Saturday at 10 a.m. And organizers of the event believe Lucas and Thames are the perfect choices to serve as its co-grand marshals.
"I've always enjoyed the festivities related to our homecoming, so I'm deeply honored to be asked to participate in the parade," said Lucas, who served Southern Miss as president from 1975-1996 and again as interim president from 2001-2002.
"When I returned to the university to serve as director of admissions and registrar, we would take our children to the parade and find a place where we could stand and cheer," he said. "It's a wonderful way to start a happy event like homecoming, and it's going to bring back a lot of fond memories having it downtown again."
Lineup for the parade is at 9 a.m. at Hawkins Elementary School on Green Street. It will travel from there east down Hardy Street to Front Street, then turn left down Main Street and back to Hawkins Elementary School. Spectator parking will be available at the Hattiesburg Train Depot, behind 206 Front Street restaurant and the Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center, and across from St. James Wright VFW on Mobile Street.
Thames, who served as president from 2002-2007 and is a distinguished professor of research in the university's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, shares Lucas' anticipation for Saturday's parade.
"It's an honor to serve as co-grand marshal of the parade with my good friend Aubrey Lucas," Thames said. "We both have fond memories of our homecoming parades rolling through downtown years ago, and I believe it's appropriate we revive the tradition for this special homecoming celebration. I encourage everyone to bring their families and be part of this centennial event."
Thames and Lucas will be joined in the parade by Southern Miss President Martha Saunders and Whitney Miller, a senior from Poplarville, Miss. who recently won the title of "MasterChef" on the Fox reality television show of the same name.
Other parade participants include The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band, current and former members of the Dixie Darlings, Southern Miss cheerleaders, mascot Seymour and float entries from a variety of student organizations and local businesses, among others.
Awards will be presented in various categories for outstanding float entries, with Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, State Sen. Joey Fillingane and former Southern Miss cheerleader Pam Rouse serving as judges.
The university's Centennial Celebration Committee partnered with the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association and the businesses it represents to hold the parade in conjunction with the city's popular Fall Art Walk.
"We've had a lot of positive response about the homecoming parade returning to downtown this year, and we've enjoyed working with downtown merchants to help make it possible," said Centennial Celebration Coordinator Jennifer Payne, "It's going to be a lot of fun."
For more information about the parade, including entries, contact Jennifer Payne at 601.266.4095. For more information about the Southern Miss Centennial Homecoming Celebration, online visit www.usm.edu/homecoming