In May 1938 Faith Smith was strolling downtown when by chance she happened upon Spokane’s first Lilac Parade at the corner of Lincoln and Main.
Or rather, it happened upon her:
“I had finished my shopping and was ready to go home when I heard the music,” she recalls. “So here comes all of this parade – by the time the calliope got really close I couldn’t move away.”
At that time Smith says the small pageant included a single float, a dentist’s truck and seven cars, all decorated with lilacs. Back then the parade lacked a formal queen and court, though three small schoolgirls and four teens rode atop the float, tossing lilac sprigs to startled bystanders, she says.
Nearby, the Davenport Hotel fountain was dressed in lilacs, and a lilac flower show was on display at the telegraph school on the east side of Monroe between Main and Riverside.
Since then the parade and other festivities have grown to include the addition of school marching bands and an annual contest for a Lilac queen. By 1946 the Spokane Lilac Festival was officially formed.
Smith says she has been a regular attendant at the parade ever since, though she came to especially enjoy it once she and her husband had adopted three children.
“We would take them and some of the neighborhood children to the parade in our big station wagon,” she says.
A Spokane native, Smith taught grade school here for 25 years. She also worked as a meteorological instructor for the U.S. Air Force in the 1940s.
As a young girl, Smith lived with her family close to Manito Park, where she and her mother would wander among the brightly colored flowers in the Duncan Garden.
“We ‘borrowed’ seeds from the flowers there at the end of the season,” she recalls with a laugh.
Those seeds were later sown in her mother’s own flower beds, but they also helped plant a love of gardening in Smith. Although she has been a member of several garden clubs over the years, in 1980 after she retired from teaching Smith joined the Sandy Hill Spadettes, part of the Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane, which produced the first Spokane Lilac Festival flower show and the first Lilac Parade that Smith witnessed back in 1938.
The Associated Garden Clubs is a non-profit organization that Smith says has donated $125,000 since 1986 in an effort to help beatify Spokane.
Although Smith enjoys participating in such community beautification efforts, she says the club sometimes gets involved in weightier issues, too. For example, part of group’s mission is to stay abreast of policies that affect clean air, water and the health of the ecosystem. Protecting the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer is one issue to which the group pays special attention.
“It’s an area of deep concern,” Smith says, adding that the organization has written letters to public officials expressing the need to protect the Inland Northwest’s valuable water resource.
“Everybody thinks we’re so dainty,” she says. “We don’t just drink tea.”
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