Safeguarding Tradition through Change
The tradition of the P-rade is a tradition like no other. The expression “it takes a village” certainly applies to the effort required by the University and a small army of volunteers each year to plan and execute reunions and, in particular, that exceptionally unique Princeton ritual of the P-rade. But one group of volunteers that goes under the radar, at least until they put on their DaVinci’s hats, is the Marshals. This band has grown from a small group of friends and neighbors into a well-organized team of volunteers numbering nearly 100 alumni who have played an ever-increasingly important role in safeguarding this important tradition.
This exhibit captures some of the key changes to the Marshal Corps and the P-rade itself from 1946 until today, relying on the experiences of the Grand Marshals who led the P-rade in the modern era, after World War II, as well as the author’s own experiences as a Marshal for over 15 years. In preparation, all of the living Grand Marshals were interviewed and the full transcripts of those interviews are available (see References below). The early history of the Marshals draws heavily upon a 2013 Princetoniana Committee interview of Stuart Duncan ’50.
Daniel A. Abramowicz *84 – October 2022
The Marshals have played a unique role in the development and evolution of the P-rade, one of Princeton’s most unique and fondest reunion traditions. Today the Grand Marshals do much more than simply lead the reunion parade and the Marshal Corps does much more than simply wear unusual hats and urge alumni to keep their legs from getting run over by floats. The Marshals, and the Grand Marshals in particular, play a key role in the P-rade’s organization, preparation, execution, and success. In this way, they provide an incredible service to Princeton University and some of the Grand Marshal’s efforts and wisdom are captured in this history. In addition to their leadership, the Grand Marshals have played a key role in the evolution of the Marshal Corps, from its membership to its function, based upon their own experiences and the collective wisdom of the Marshal Corps. Although ‘minding the gap’ and managing the logistics and route of the P-rade are still important functions of the Marshals, their role and impact represents much more.
Amongst these Grand Marshals are some important firsts in the history of the P-rade, including Arlene Pedovitch, the first female Grand Marshal (and possibly the first Jewish Grand Marshal), Daniel Lopresti, the first Graduate School alum Grand Marshal, and Heather Butts, the first African American Grand Marshal and the first to preside over a virtual P-rade (and therefore the shortest P-rade in the historical record).
Frank Gorman is the longest serving Grand Marshal in the history of the P-rade, by a wide margin, having served in that role for 34 years, from 1946 through 1979. He is considered “The Father of the modern P-rade”10 and is responsible for reinventing the P-rade and the Marshal Corps. In honor of Gorman’s critical role in the evolution of the P-rade, each Grand Marshal marches with the “Gorman Mace” that bears the names of the preceding Grand Marshals.
Brief History of the P-rade10,15
The P-rade officially began in the late 1890s, but it is actually the merged product of earlier traditions. Beginning in the Civil War era, alumni formally processed to Commencement Day dinner meetings. Then in 1888, Princeton and Yale University began scheduling one of their baseball games at Princeton on the Saturday before Commencement. Since this coincided with class dinners, alumni attendance was high and many classes formally marched to the game at University Field (located at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Olden Street).
In October 1896, when the newly renamed Princeton University celebrated its sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), 800 Princeton undergraduates and 2,000 alumni took part in a mile-long procession through the campus and town; most carried an orange torch or lantern, and many classes wore coordinated hatbands, ribbons, buttons, or badges. Stimulated by the grandeur and organization of this parade, in 1897 all returning classes first joined to march in order to the baseball game. In 1901 the first full costume was introduced, and the custom quickly grew. One hypothesis on the evolution of the P-rade marching order (oldest class to youngest) was to “guarantee older legs got better seats” at the game.
By 1906, a written description of the annual event said, “The Alumni Pee-rade on Saturday afternoon was quite as spectacular as usual; the bands, banners, transparencies, uniforms and vaudeville features encircling University Field with color and noise.”
Three of the things that make Princeton’s Alumni Weekend an extraordinary event are that 1) all of the alumni classes come back every year, not just classes celebrating the major reunion years; 2) the seniors become alumni a couple of days before they actually graduate; and 3) the alumni get together each year in a spirit of joy and celebration in an unusual parade, the Princeton P-rade, with alumni classes lining the parade route, largely in the order of their graduation year, while enthusiastically cheering the other classes as they march down the line.
In the year 1946, signaling the end of World War II, the university had one of its biggest reunions in years. This was a very significant reunion as reunions had not been held during the war years. It was during this time that Frank Gorman ‘41 took over as Grand Marshal of the P-rade, in many ways reinventing the P-rade and revitalizing the Marshal Corps. He refreshed the Marshal organization by pulling in non-alumni to serve in the role as Marshals in the P-rade, including local citizens and friends (a practice that does not continue today, as described later in this history). He also started the tradition of holding dinners for the Marshal Corps in preparation for the event, about a month before the actual parade. Frank is also responsible for the now common practice of doing a pre-march down the entire parade route on the day of the event, starting precisely at 8:00 AM. He would precisely time this pre-march with his Princeton watch (photo at left), so the history of a focus on the duration of the parade dates back at least to that time. Based upon the observations he made during the pre-march, he would change the route or institute other procedural changes to make sure the P-rade ran would run as efficiently as possible.
Frank also established the set Marshal uniform for the parade which has evolved little in the subsequent years. The uniform, including the now iconic DaVinci hat, was memorialized years later in a cartoon by Henry Martin '486, at the request of Charles Plohn ’66.
During these early years the P-rade was a male dominated event and only the alumni were allowed to march.6 Eventually sons could march in the parade until they reached age 16 and daughters until the age of 14, but wives were still not encouraged to participate. Over time the event became more extravagant, including orange and black automobiles, live tigers, and even Clydesdales making appearances. One notable event happened in the year 1968 when the funeral train for Bobby Kennedy went through the Princeton Junction station during the parade. Out of respect, the celebration was called to a halt during that time.
Stuart Duncan ‘50 served as the successor to Frank Gorman ’41 as Grand Marshal when Gorman passed in 1979. Stu then served as Grand Marshal for a total of 3 years, in 1980, 1981 and 1982. At left, Stu can be seen leading the 1982 P-rade. To honor Gorman’s incredible legacy serving as Grand Marshal of the P-rade for over 30 years, Stu created the Gorman Mace for Grand Marshals to carry while leading the parade. You can see Stu carrying the mace as he and every Grand Marshal has done ever since (except in 2012 … more on that later). By the time Duncan took over as Grand Marshal in the early 1980’s, the P-rade had dramatically transformed. The parade was now lasting roughly 2 1/2 hours with roughly 20,000 people marching in the parade, including wives and female alumnae. Indeed women had been allowed in the parade since 1969 with the onset of female students in the University. After 1982, Stu remained heavily involved in the parade over the years, including his service as the Key Master, the guard of the FitzRandolph Gate. He was responsible for helping to create the “Opening Ceremony” involving the Key Master where the gate is locked ~1/2 hour before the start of the event. As part of this ritual, the Grand Marshal must ask for formal permission from the Key Master to enter to campus, who then unlocks the gate and lets the Grand Marshal and other dignitaries enter. A recent improvement to this ceremony is the use of a real lock and key fashioned for this purpose, as the FitzRandolph Gate is now ceremoniously locked and then 30 minutes later unlocked and opened to officially designate the start of the P-rade.
Grand Marshals – A Legacy of Honor and Service
To a person, the Grand Marshals have demonstrated exceptional service to Princeton University over the years. Indeed, it is an honor to be asked to serve as a Marshal, and an outstanding honor to be asked to serve as a Grand Marshal, an honor that the Grand Marshals richly deserve and wear with pride. Many Marshals have distinguished themselves with their volunteer efforts for the University as alumni, and the Grand Marshal’s experiences are an indicator of the dedication of this elite unit.
Joe Prather ’61, who left Princeton as a junior to marry his sweetheart, didn’t realize he was a Princeton alum and entitled to march in the P-rade until a friend brought him to his class’s 2nd reunion, and he hasn’t missed one since (except for his 5th when he had an important commitment). Joe led his 15th, 20th, 25th and 50th class reunions, he served on the Alumni Committee on Reunions, and he also served as the Chair of that Committee, but curiously never served as an ordinary line Marshal, just as a Grand Marshal, serving in that role for a total of 8 years (1985 – 1986 and 1990 – 1995).1
Hugh Fairman ’58 grew up in Princeton and his father worked for the University. He was also a frequent attendee at reunions and had served as a Marshal in the P-rade about 15 times. Hugh also served as the Chair of the Committee on Reunions and as the Grand Marshal for 2 years from 1987 – 1988. The role of the Chair of the Committee on Reunions will be referenced again later when discussing how the process for choosing Grand Marshals evolved over time. But there was a period of time when the individual who Chaired the Committee on Reunions for 2 years was a candidate to serve as the P-rade Grand Marshal for the next 2 years.1,2
John Thacher ’66, who was better known as “Turk”, is also an honorary member of the Class of 1941, his father’s class. Turk created an endowed scholarship in this father’s memory that now generates $162,000 each year and provides funding for 5 students at the University. Turk ran the Class of 1966’s 10th reunion and then served as the Co-Chair of the class’s reunion for the next 42 years, from their 10th through 52nd reunion! And yes, Turk was the Chair of the Committee on Reunions before he became a Grand Marshal in 1989. Turk also served as the Narrator of the P-rade in 1990 and 1991, before Gregg Lange took that job over for many years.3 He is seen at left as the Narrator of the 1990 P-rade on the podium at Clarke Field. 1990 marked the last time that the P-rade line of march went along Prospect Street to the baseball field for the Princeton-Yale baseball game.
Arlene Pedovitch ’80 is also very active in serving the University as an alumnus. In her words, “I do Princeton all the time.”4 She served on the Class of 1980’s Executive Committee in a variety of roles and then became Chair for their 5th Reunion. After that experience, she became Class President and was the Class Reunions Chair for their 15th and 20th reunions, and Reunions Treasurer for their 25th reunion. She has continued as either Co-President or Co-Reunions Chair ever since! And yes, she served as the Chair of the Committee on Reunions before becoming the first female Grand Marshal, serving for 7 years from 1996 – 20024. At left, Arlene can be seen on the Reviewing Stand with President Shapiro and his wife, celebrating the University’s 250th Anniversary as the first female Grand Marshal. On the right, she can be seen leading a later P-rade carrying the Gorman Mace high in the air, with Charlie Rose ’50 on her left as Flanking Marshal.
Charles Rose ’50 was an Airborne Colonel and is the current President of his class, and is now essentially “President-For-Life”, as he put it.5 Charlie was a Marshal for a remarkable period of time, over 40 years, before he became a Grand Marshal for 5 years, from 2003 – 2007. And in his rich history of volunteer service, he has played nearly every Marshal role there is to play in a P-rade, including Line Marshal, Area Captain, Flanking Marshal (for Grand Marshal Arlene Pedovitch as shown on right) and of course as a Grand Marshal. As shown on left, at the 2005 P-rade, Charlie had the rare opportunity to serve as Grand Marshal and march bordered by his two daughters serving as Flanking Marshals, Beth Rose ’77 and Chris Parham ’80.5
Charles Plohn ’66 is also an honorary member of the Class of 2016, his grandchild’s class. He served as a Marshal for 18 years before becoming a Grand Marshal for 5 years, from 2008 through 2012. Like Charlie Rose, Charles Plohn served in every possible Marshal role before becoming a Grand Marshal, including Point Marshal (see image with Rose above). Charles distinguished himself as a Grand Marshal via his extraordinary preparation, which is demonstrated by his speech to the Marshal Corps at the annual Marshal Dinner in April 2012, in preparation for the 2012 P-rade.11 Similar levels of preparation and detail were found at each of the Marshal dinners during his reign as Grand Marshal. In his 2012 speech, Mr. Plohn shared the plan for the upcoming P-rade that was developed by the P-rade Task Force established in 2008 or 2009.11 The membership of this Task Force, comprising the Grand Marshal and numerous University Departments including Public Safety, Transportation, Parking Services, Communications, and Grounds and Building Maintenance, provides some sense of the scale of preparation and coordination now required to make the P-rade a success. Another example of Charles’ deep preparation is that he modified the original roles and responsibilities of the Marshal Corps, captured by Bob Rogers ’56 in the famous Marching Orders document12 into an updated and expanded version13 of that document6. Charles can be seen pictured at the right leading the 2012 P-rade without the Gorman Mace, which could not be located at the appointed hour, as detailed by Jean Telljohann ’81 during her interview for this history.7
Jean Telljohann ’81 is part of a rich legacy at Princeton, as she is S81, P11 and P14. Her first time marching in a P-rade was when she was just a freshman student at the university in the Princeton Marching Band. Participating in the P-rade as a member of the Marching Band is a great experience, but it can be a real challenge on a hot day, as the band marches with several different classes during the day, often doing the parade route 3 or 4 times in a row! Before she served for three years as the second female Grand Marshal in 2013, 2014 and 2015, she was a Marshal for ~ 20 years, served two terms as Class Officer and was on the Executive Committee of the Alumni Council. She is also on the Advisory Council of the Department of French and Italian and she is also serving as the Chair of the Selection Committee for the Princeton Reach Out 56-81-06 fellowships, designating a joint effort by the ’56, ’81 and ’06 classes. Jean can be seen as Grand Marshal with the Gorman Mace on the Reviewing Stand after the 2015 P-rade had been completed in the photograph shown left. For her outstanding service to the University, she was also awarded the distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2010. Jean can also be seen serving as a Flanking Marshall to Grand Marshal Charles Plohn during the 2010 P-rade in the figure on the right.7 During this P-rade, Charles Plohn is seen carrying the Gorman Mace.
Daniel Lopresti *87, a Professor at Lehigh University, is a member of the Graduate Class of 1987 and is distinguished as the first graduate alum to serve as a Grand Marshal. He has been further recognized for his outstanding service to the University with the distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2005. Dan served as a Marshal for ~ 15 years before getting the opportunity to serve as the P-rade Grand Marshal for three years in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He was also a member of the APGA (Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni) for many years and served as the President of that alumni organization for several years. Dan is now also a member of the Princetoniana Committee. Although he has had many different volunteer roles with the University over the years, he views being honored as Grand Marshal to be “the icing on the cake.” 8 Dan can be seen executing his role as Grand Marshal of the 2016 P-rade in the figure on the left. Dan is also featured in a later figure as he initiates the 2016 P-rade with the Opening Ceremony at FitzRandolph Gate. In that photograph, Stu Duncan ’50 is serving as the Key Master, the individual who actually unlocks the gate to allow the dignitaries entrance. During his interview8, Dan mentioned that he was responsible for formalizing and improving this ceremony with the use of an actual key and lock to open and shut the gate. Stu himself was a Grand Marshal for 3 years in 1980, 1981 and 1982, but he died before the writing of this article. Fortunately, his memories were captured by Tom Swift ’76 in an Oral History.10
Heather Butts ’94 is an Assistant Professor at Long Island University, a Lecturer at Columbia University and St. John’s University and she is the current Grand Marshal of the P-rade. Like all Grand Marshals, Heather has a history of extensive service to the University. She served as a Marshal for ~15 years before serving as a Grand Marshal in 2019 through to today. Heather was also very involved in the Alumni Schools Committee, and she particularly distinguished herself by conducting interviews with prospective students from all around the globe. In today’s world that feat may not seem too impressive, but years before Teams and Zoom and the networked, remote video meeting world of today, that feat was much harder to accomplish and to do well. She excelled at the task. Heather can be seen at right serving as one of the Flanking Marshals in the 2018 P-rade. Heather is also legendary for famously pushing stalled golf carts the remaining length of the route in both the 2010 and 2011 P-rades (and perhaps even during another year), as memorized by Charlie Plohn.6
Another thing that Heather is famous for is that she presided over the first virtual P-rade in 2020 and again in 2021, as Princeton coped with holding the P-rade during the COVID pandemic.9 She realized that we needed to simultaneously plan for an in-person P-rade and a virtual P-rade, as uncertainty was the rule of the day, and she instituted monthly (and more frequent) Marshal planning meetings and Marshal Subcommittees to successfully manage the unprecedented level of complexity. In the figure above is a computer screenshot from a virtual Marshal Meeting that was being held in preparation for what turned out to be 2020 Virtual P-rade.9
Evolution of the Marshal Corps
As the University and the P-rade itself have evolved, the Marshal Corps has evolved as well. In Stu Duncan’s Oral History10, he mentions that the Marshals were reinvented by Frank Gorman ’41 who expanded their ranks by pulling in a few non-alumni, such as local citizens and friends. Today, the ranks of the Marshal Corps number nearly 100 on the day of the event and they are comprised exclusively of alumni and staff who have ‘earned their stripes’ by their service to the University. When the P-rade was smaller and more uniform, with spectators neatly lining Prospect Street, the Marshal ranks could be much smaller. Hugh Fairman ’58 referenced2 that the P-rade was very different in the later part of the 1940’s, as the alumni (and no one else) marched four by four, in a line, like a military marching unit. Hugh estimates that there may have been only several hundreds, not several thousands of marchers at that time, and that marching worked because most of the graduates had actually served in the military. In the 1950’s, however, fewer people marching had formal military training, and they parade was no longer in ‘lock-step’, becoming more informal. The informality grew over the years and finally, as others were allowed to march with the alumni, and as the numbers grew, the P-rade evolved into more of a rambling, “free for all” approach2 that we are familiar with today.
Joe Prather '611 and Hugh Fairman '582 both discussed how Grand Marshals were chosen years ago, after long-time Grand Marshal Frank Gorman ’41 died in 1979. Initially the process was a bit more informal, with the Alumni Council Committee of Reunions being tasked to select someone and they naturally turned to individuals with extensive knowledge of reunions. They selected Stu Duncan ’50 who served in 1980, 1981 and 1982. When Stu decided he wanted out, the Committee selected Jack Joyce ’52 who was then the President of the Reunion Committee, and he served in 1983 and 1984. As Joe Prather stated, “When Jack left, that set the stage so that every two years, the President of the Alumni Council Committee of Reunions would take over as Grand Marshal … As I was the President of the Alumni Council Committee of Reunions at that time, I took over from Jack Joyce ’52 and then I was Grand Marshal for two years in 1985 and 1986.”1 This practice continued with Hugh Fairman ’58 serving in 1987 and 1988 and Turk Thacher ’66 serving in 1989. Turk left to become the Narrator of the P-rade in 1990, so Joe Prather was asked to come back and fill in for him during 1990. They then asked Joe to do a “second term” of 5 years from 1991 – 1995, making him the 2nd longest tenured Grand Marshal, giving him a total of 8 years. This began a new practice asking individuals to serve for terms longer than 2 years (three to seven years, as shown in the table above).
In addition to expanding the ranks, new Marshal positions were added as the complexity of the P-rade continued to grow. Charlie Rose ’50 worked aggressively to contact Princeton alumni who had been active and effective volunteers in organizations such as the APGA, Schools Committee, and leaders of different alumni organizations, as well as Pyne Prize winners.5 In the late 1990s, Arlene Pedovitch created the position of Flanking Marshals who “were positioned almost in front of the Grand Marshal to literally clear the route”4, as shown in the photograph to the right. She also began the process of reaching out to every class to assign two alumni to become Marshals. As the P-rade continued to grow, Charlie Rose ’50 created the position of Point Marshal who would go ahead of the Flanking Marshals, as shown in an earlier photograph with with Bruce McBarnette ’78 leading the way as Point Marshal. Even the Marshal meetings changed as the Marshal Corps has played a more proactive role in the planning of the P-rade, moving from annual dinners to monthly meetings.9
Of course, the execution of the P-rade is too complex an event for even an expanded roster of ~100 Marshals to handle alone and every Grand Marshal praised the invaluable contributions of others, especially the staff of the Alumni Council. As Grand Marshal Dan Lopresti put it, “They’re amazing … without the staff helping us … it would be an insurmountable task.”8 How many “others” are involved in the execution of the P-rade? Grand Marshal Charlie Plohn estimated that during his tenure (2008 – 2012) there were ~50 Princeton University Staff members from various departments, ~100 other university staff and over 300 undergraduates providing critical support to the ~80 Marshals at that time.6
Changing to Safeguard Tradition
The most important Princeton tradition protected by the Marshal Corps, in this author’s view, is to ensure the P-rade is safe, enjoyable and efficient. Bob Rogers in his Marching Orders12 stated it another way, “the primary objective of the Marshals is to provide structure within the greater mission of joy and celebration for P-raders and spectators.” The Grand Marshals may have used different language, but the sentiment was much the same. Charlie Plohn6 described the role of the Marshals to “channel enthusiasm”; Dan Lopresti8 stated that the role was to make the P-rade “enjoyable and safe”; Heather Butts9 stated that the role has always been “making sure that it’s safe, making sure people have a good time … and are not put in harm’s way … and that the P-rade runs efficiently”; and Jean Telljohann7 described the role as “to maintain some order and structure within the joyful and exuberant spirit of the overall event … and to try to keep the time down”. At its essence, the Marshals see their role as one to keep the P-rade safe, enjoyable, and efficient.
How do the Marshals achieve this goal of channeling enthusiasm? They accomplish this impressive goal in two important ways, by maintaining a cheerful, encouraging attitude and by embracing a spirit of continuous improvement.
Maintaining that positive attitude can be a challenge, as this author can attest, when one is faced with maintaining order and structure in an amorphous crowd that is over 25,000 strong and filled with joy, emotion, memories, and sometimes too much alcohol. Grand Marshal Charlie Plohn described the necessary approach perfectly when he stated “the approach should be cheerful, requesting and explanatory as to the safety, order, pace and deployment of the P-rade. However, when necessary, there are times you do need to be firm and direct.”6 Another tactic that has become popular of late is the assignment of “Junior Marshals”. The origin of this clever tactic and arguably brilliant idea is unknown, but over the last few years the Marshals have been given buttons to appoint children along the route as Junior Marshals. This has become a very effective strategy as these children not only help to control the other children located near them, but also the “older children” often represented by their parents! In these and other ways, the Marshals do hundreds of little things each year to smooth the gears of the Princeton locomotive better known as the P-rade. As Heather Butts9 stated, “I think it goes to all the little things that you don’t see, from letting people know where the restrooms are, to making sure than young children don’t run in the middle of the P-rade and get hurt”.
This author has been impressed with the way the Marshal Corps, and indeed the University community more broadly, are always looking for ways to improve the P-rade and the management of this important event. This has become increasingly important over the years as the P-rade has grown in complexity, and the effort now begins immediately after the P-rade has been completed with a post-mortem of the day’s events. The changes can be big or small, requiring flexibility, adaptability, and creativity, and some of them are recorded below:
• Changing the staging position of the 25th Class from at least three different locations. 6,8 Initially the entire class would spill onto Nassau Street after being staged on University Place near the bookstore6. Then they were staged on campus next to the First Presbyterian Church which fronts onto Nassau Street.6 But getting the large returning class through the FitzRandolf Gate became an increasingly significant problem and now the 25th Class is staged on Front Campus, and they no longer enter Nassau Street or enter through the gate. Instead, only the Class Leadership, Vanguard Marshals and other Princeton University dignitaries go out onto Nassau Street and enter through FitzRandolf Gate, in what is known as the Opening Ceremony.
• Changes in the route, with the largest change happening in 1993. Historically, “up through 1990, the P-rade when through the 1879 Arch, marched down Prospect Street, making a right at Cottage Club (Roper Lane) and then down to the baseball field or Clarke Field,3 so alumni could watch the Princeton-Yale baseball game. But as the P-rade grew in size, that route was taking too long and the P-rade stayed on campus, ending where it still does today at Poe Field. The photograph of Turk Thacher ’66 as narrator in 1990 marked the last time the P-rade ended at Clarke Field. Serving as Narrator again in 1991, Turk became the first person to announce a P-rade that ended on Poe Field.
• Creating and utilizing “Stop Signs”, as shown at left, that both improve safety by controlling the onrushing Graduate Class as they march and/or run onto Poe Field and to welcome them into the Princeton Alumni Community, even before they graduate.8
• Use of “Water Monsters” or large water tanks to make water more accessible to more people and in more places along the route, and by expanding their use over time.
• Shutting the FitzRandolf Gate thirty minutes before the P-rade and requiring the Grand Marshal to ask permission to enter the campus. 10
• Changing the Opening Ceremony at the Front Gate to involve a Key Master and an actual lock and key, rather than a wooden stick that had been used for years to hold the gate closed.8 An image taken of the 2016 Opening Ceremony is shown at right, with Key Master Duncan opening the gate for Grand Master Lopresti.
• Changing where the golf carts for the Old Guard are staged (several times) as the size of the P-rade has increased.
• Changing where the floats are staged (several times) to adapt for ever more, larger floats over time.
• Use of physical barriers to better maintain the route towards the end of the P-rade (from Dillon Gym to the Bloomberg Arch), as the size of the graduating class and the number of returning young alumni has balloned.6
• Changing where Marshals are staged along the route, to better address more difficult areas such as the area where the floats enter the P-rade or navigating crowed and tight turns.
• Having Marshals with specific expertise in certain aspects of the P-rade staged in those areas, such as where the floats enter the P-rade, Front Campus or a place where there is always a problem like a specific turn or near the graduating class.8
• Proactively staging public safety officers at strategic locations along the route.6
• Changing how Marshals are recruited, from advertising the position to proactively soliciting specific alumni as a reward for service.5
• Creation of the Annual Marshal Dinner months before and then the Marshal Breakfast on the day of the P-rade for planning purposes.
• Creation of the additional Marshal positions, such as Area Captains, Flanking Marshals and the Point Marshal, to aid in ‘clearing the path’.
• Honoring Marshals by creating a certificate and the gift of a DaVinci hat after 10 years of service to reward them for forgoing their own reunion experience for the good of the larger goal.
• Tighter enforcement of the Marshal Uniform, which helps them to be a more visible and therefore more valuable resource to the crowd.5
• Expanding the Marshal’s role from a focus on logistics and clearing the path on the day of the event to their current year-round role with more proactive involvement in the overall planning of the P-rade9.
An Informal History of the P-rade
As you can imagine, given their extraordinary level of experience with reunions in general, and with the P-rade more broadly, the Grand Marshals shared some remarkable memories during their interviews from their times serving as a Grand Marshal or their participation in the P-rade experience. As these stories capture the spirit and joy of the event, the challenge involved in overcoming obstacles, the flexibility and adaptability of the Marshal Corps, as well as the tension involved in ensuring the event is a success, some of them are captured here. In particular, you will note that the theme of time and the duration of the P-rade seems to haunt the Marshal Corps and some of the strongest, if not fondest, memories of the Grand Marshals deal with time and gaps in the P-rade.
Memories that Focus on Time and Duration
The problem with gaps in the P-rade seems to go back as far as memory allows. It seems in the early 1900s, the Alumni Council gathered alumni back for reunions on the front campus for lunch on Saturday before they went to watch the Princeton-Yale baseball game.10 Of course, the younger alumni, with younger legs, arrived at Clarke Field first and got the best seats. So by making it a parade with the Old Guard going first, that problem was solved.10 But it created a challenge with the time of the parade. Stu Duncan recalls that the P-rade was taking nearly 4 hours during his term as Grand Marshal in the early 1980s.10 Grand Marshal Joe Prather ’61 recalls trying to deal with large gaps during his reign in the mid-1980s. He recalled a time when there was a 20-minute gap in the parade that was created by a member of the Old Guard. The delay was so long it had then President Bowen wondering “Where’s the rest of the P-rade?”1 Another time President Bowen teased him … “Hey Prather, what’s going on? Your P-rade has a big gap in it. Is it all over?”1
Hugh Fairman laments that 50 and 100-yard gaps were common during his time as a Grand Marshal and feels its managed better today.2 Hugh recalled a time when the oldest graduate decided to walk the route and a gaping hole was created. He stopped the entire P-rade, dignitaries and all, for several minutes to close the gap only to learn that the eldest alumnus was still over 200 yards behind!2
Arlene Pedovitch recalls delays trying to start the P-rade with so many alumni filling the beginning of the route making it difficult to get the event underway on time. For the next year she created the new role of the Flanking Marshal to literally help to “clear the route.”4
Charlie Plohn recalls a time when the Old Guard were delayed in arriving and the P-rade started 15 minutes late and another time when it took the 25th Reunion Class 45 minutes to walk the route. A key factor in that delay was the difficulty in getting that large returning class down Nassau Street and then through the FitzRandolf Gate. Preventing the main body of that class from marching down Nassau Street and entering through the FitzRandolf Gate reduced this time to only 20 minutes.6 More critically, in 2009 the end of the route narrowed so much, with enthusiastic alumni and graduating students crowding the route, that people were passing only one abreast through the Bloomberg Arch. The following year, the physical barriers were introduced.6 As you can see, such challenges have regularly been met with well planned changes or improvements that have had lasting benefits going forward.
Memories that Expose Effort and Tension
• Hugh Fairman remembers needing to hold up the entire P-rade, dignitaries and all, to wait for the eldest alumnus to catch up. He struggled with the pressure of deciding how long to wait and hold everyone up while all the spectators were waiting down Prospect Street for the parade to arrive.2 In his words, it was a bit stressful and “not a warm and fuzzy memory.”2
• “There is quite a lot involved in getting everything ready for the P-rade … the amount of preparation and work that goes into pulling off this extravaganza” – Arlene Pedovitch.4
• Getting the P-rade started on time … “that is the most frantic, anxious, and a little bit scary time. There is a lot of stress on the Grand Marshal and a couple of the other lead Marshals who are up there helping in front of FitzRandolph Gate” – Dan Lopresti.8
• Dan Lopresti was concerned about a risk he had witnessed with the senior class running onto Poe Field with so much energy and excitement, sometimes running past the Reviewing Stand without stopping. So he created orange and black STOP signs that said “STOP” on the front and “Welcome to the Alumni Body” on the back, as shown in an earlier photograph. And it worked! – Dan Lopresti.8 In this way, he both improved the safety of the event and came up with a clever new way to welcome the soon to be graduates to the Princeton Alumni Community.
Memories that Denote Pride and Honor
• “Carrying the Gorman Mace was a real thrill” – Joe Prather.1
• Narrating the P-rade in 1990 and again in 1991 for my class’s 25th Reunion was a special honor – Turk Thacher.3
• “There is no place that does reunions like Princeton University” – Turk Thacher.3
• “I think that the University wanted to make a statement and have a woman become Grand Marshal of the P-rade … It was an enormous honor for me, my family, and the work I had done on behalf of my class.” – Arlene Pedovitch.4
• Feeling a special pride that her two young children, indeed a number of her family and friends, were able to see her head the P-rade as Grand Marshal and indeed as the first female Grand Marshal – Arlene Pedovitch.4
• Like many Marshals, Charlie Plohn remembered with great pride how Heather Butts came to the rescue in 2010 and again in 2011 when a golf cart broke down. Heather pushed the golf carts the remainder of the route! As he was Grand Marshal at the time, he presented Heather with a special trophy at each of the following Marshal Dinners to recognize and commemorate her extraordinary efforts – Charlie Plohn.6
• Jean Telljohann emotionally recalled her mother’s great pride at the opportunity to see her as Grand Marshal of the P-rade. She was even greeted by President Tilghman.7 Her pride brought back a similar emotional memory for the author, the first time his parents saw him serving as a Marshal in the P-rade. As he shared during their discussion, “making your parents proud is invaluable!"7
• “Being the Grand Marshal of the P-rade is the icing on the cake … I literally remember getting the phone call” – Dan Lopresti.8
• “We’re constantly learning and adapting and paying attention and fine tuning.” – Dan Lopresti.8
• Dan Lopresti was Grand Master in 2018 when the lightning storm hit and the P-rade was cancelled after it started. The situation was dangerous and chaotic, “but it was uplifting to see the Marshals rise to the occasion.” Spontaneous celebrations broke out around campus after the weather improved. “I was incredibly proud just to say we helped take this potential big negative and to turn it into something that was safe for everyone and where people could have some of the enjoyment, even though we couldn’t have the P-rade.” – Dan Lopresti.8
• It’s all the little things Marshals do that make a P-rade that is “enjoyable, fun, safe, timely, efficient, and that people will fondly remember” – Heather Butts9
• “How proud I am that I was selected to be the Grand Marshal of this team and how proud I am to be part of an incredible group of people who I’m glad are getting the recognition they deserve through the virtual P-rade.” – Heather Butts9
• Joe Prather was very concerned he would get grass stains or in some way dirty his Marshal Uniform while he was a Grand Marshal, so he would bring two complete sets of clothing (jackets, pants, socks, shoes, etc.) so he could look sharp leading the P-rade as Grand Marshal. He also recalled a time he lent his shoes to another Marshal who had forgotten his dress black shoes.1
• Joe Prather was very involved in his class’s 25th and 50th Reunions and they made the reunion celebration extraordinary by offering a free concert on campus by Chubby Checkers in 1986 and by The Beach Boys in 2011. Given how reunions continue to grow, Joe doesn’t think such a thing would be possible on campus today.1
• Turk Thacher’s favorite memory was when he marched in his father’s P-rade at the age of only 3 or 4. His job was to help carry a bucket of beer along the route and it made quite an impression. Another of his memories also involves beer, when his class’s float was a beer cart. The cart could not make it down the steps of the 1879 Arch, so they detoured the cart around the Arch and the whole P-rade followed them for some period of time. Apparently beer carts were outlawed in the P-rade after that incident!3 Finally, he fondly recalled teaching the senior class how to do the locomotive.3
• Like many alumni and many Marshals, Arlene Pedovitch4, Charlie Rose5, and Jean Telljohann7 strongly recalled the lightening storm in 2018 when the P-rade was cancelled after it’s start and the Marshals’ response to that challenge.
• Charlie Rose recalled a couple of times when things went awry. One year when they repainted the FitzRandolf Gates to make them look their best for the reunion, but the paint was so thick that the gates would not properly reclose. So his two grandsons got some hammers to chip off some of the paint! Another time, three individuals got some DaVinci-like hats and entered the parade route, posing like real Marshals, and they were able to hold up the P-rade for a while.5
• During the morning pre-march of the route, Charlie Rose discovered that there was an abrupt right turn that was too narrow for the floats to easily pass. He highlighted the concern and the grounds crew came out and took down the tree that very morning, eliminating the issue!5
• Charlie Rose’s fondest memory was in 2005, one of the years he was the Grand Marshal. This was a special year as his two daughters served as his Flanking Marshals that year, as shown in an earlier photograph.5
• Charlie Plohn had a vivid memory of the 2005 P-rade when the ‘heavens opened up’ just before the Senior Class came through Bloomberg Arch onto Poe Field. He recalled the seniors sliding and belly-flopping into the mud, and even hugging President Tilghman while covered in mud. As he said, “it was just exhilarating!”6
• Charlie Plohn’s strongest memory, however, involved the 65th Reunion of the Class of 1944 in 2009. That Class had a great turnout for their special reunion and had hired World War II reenactors to participate in their march, as so many of the class had served during the war. Well, the reenactors were delayed in arriving for the start and Charlie remembered them rushing across campus at the last minute with guns and bayonets extended into the air as they hurried to get into position. It was apparently quite a sight!6
• Jean Telljohann recalled a remarkable coincidence when she served as a Flanking Marshal one year. The other Flanking Marshal was Janice Roddenbery *77 and they both had broken their feet shortly before the P-rade. Jean’s boot came off just before the event, but Janice walked the route while in a boot cast.7
• Jean Telljohann also remembered a time back in 2012 when the Gorman Mace went missing. Grand Marshal Charlie Plohn had to make do with a rather poor substitute of a stick with some orange and black ribbon, as shown earlier.7
• Dan Lopresti mentioned that initially the “key” that held FitzRandolf Gate closed was just a wooden stick shoved into the gate. He suggested there should be a real key and the Facilities team did a great job, making a nice lock with tigers on it. This improved and formalized the Opening Ceremony, essentially creating a new P-rade tradition.8
• Heather Butts fondest memory involved dealing with the P-rade during the COVID epidemic, as everyone rallied to pull off an unpreceded virtual P-rade. As the Marshals were preparing for the virtual P-rade, or V-Rade as it has been called, they took a screenshot that remined her of all the amazing people who worked so hard to make it possible, under extraordinary circumstances.9 In case you missed it, a recording of the record-setting 2021 Princeton V-Rade, which lasted less than an hour, can be found on YouTube The One and Only V-Rade at Princeton Reunions 2021, with the initial screenshot as shown below.
The Marshal Corps play a critical role in the success of the P-rade. Given the growth of the event over time, more recently the P-rade has required an extraordinary amount of organization and preparation. During this time, the role of the Marshals has evolved from one of simply “shepherding” the P-rade to that of playing a key role in the execution, safety and planning of the event. It has been said many times that the goal of the Marshals efforts is to ensure the parade is an enjoyable and safe experience for all those involved. Per the marching orders developed by Bob Rogers ‘56, the Marshals primary objective is “to provide structure within the greater mission of joy and celebration for P-raders and spectators.”5 It is true that there is significant pressure to complete the parade in a reasonable amount of time, as that is important in ensuring both safety and enjoyment. This pressure has only grown as the event itself has grown. But the organization and planning of this impressive team of volunteers helps to make that possible. Obviously the P-rade is part of a University-wide planning and implementation process that involves many others, including university staff and volunteers. The Grand Marshals could not say enough about how the university staff and other volunteers contribute to that success, and in particular they noted the invaluable role played by the Alumni Council Staff. But it is also clear that the Marshals themselves play an critical role in ensuring the event works now and for years to come.
In addition to major responsibilities, the Marshals do many “little things” every year to help make the parade a success. In fact, in talking to the Grand Marshals, it is clear there is a spirit of continuous improvement within the Marshal organization that has made a real difference. As a result, the Marshals have demonstrated the ability to adapt, change and improve the event over time. They’ve also demonstrated the flexibility and ability to improvise in times of need, as shown during the lightning storm in 2018.
Finally, one of the most significant changes in the Marshals Corps over time has been the constituency of the membership itself. As a result, this membership has evolved from a small group of primarily non-alumni to a team of valuable alumni volunteers who have demonstrated a love of Princeton and an ability to give back to the University in many ways. In some respects, being a Marshall has become a reward for an individual’s tremendous service to the University over the years. And it is a reward that they pay that back tenfold with continued service to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and efficient P-rade.
1Transcript of Interview with Joseph Prather ‘61, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, April 14, 2022.
2Transcript of Interview with Hugh Fairman ‘58, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, December 1, 2021.
3Transcript of Interview with John (Turk) Thatcher ‘66, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, December 7, 2021.
4Transcript of Interview with Arlene Pedovitch ‘80, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, January 13, 2022.
5Transcript of Interview with Charlie Rose ‘50, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, December 2, 2021.
6Transcript of Interview with Charles Plohn ‘66, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, December 6, 2021.
7Transcript of Interview with Jean Telljohann ‘81, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, December 21, 2021.
8Transcript of Interview with Daniel Lopresti *87, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, November 30, 2021.
9Transcript of Interview with Heather Butts '94, by Daniel A. Abramowicz *84, November 29, 2021.
10Transcript of Interview with Stuart Duncan '50, by Tom Swift '76, Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project, September 23, 2013.
11Grand Marshal Dinner Speech at Marshal’s Dinner in preparation for 2012 Princeton University P-rade, Charles Plohn ’66, From the Collection of Charles J. Plohn, April 24, 2012.
12"Marshal “Marching Orders” detailing Marshal’s Responsibilities in Princeton University P-rade, Bob Rogers ‘56
13"Marshal “Marching Orders” detailing Marshal’s Responsibilities in Princeton University P-rade, Bob Rogers ’56 and Charles Plohn ‘66
14Recording of the 2021 Virtual P-rade or “V-Rade”, YouTube, May 23, 2021.
15REUNIONS: A HISTORY OF THE PRINCETON P-RADE, Princeton University