Annual traditions cancelled, Corvallis can still ‘lift spirits’ in new ways

Christmas lights glow bright in downtown Corvallis on Dec. 23, 2020.  

Sukhjot Sal, News Contributor

Though many Corvallis traditions and events have been cancelled due to the pandemic, community leaders urge residents to explore and support efforts to create new, alternate forms of entertainment and celebration.

The Pastega Christmas Lights Display, a generations-old Corvallis event founded by the late Mario Pastega and now funded through the Mario and Alma Pastega family foundation, was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Ken Pastega, Mario Pastega’s son, said the family instead chose to donate $40,000 to Linn Benton Food Share.

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Usually, Pastega said they have between 150 to 200 volunteers and four fully-paid individuals who work alongside him, Mike and Dana Strowbridge to create the display. 

The Rotary Club of Greater Corvallis, Kiwanis, and Delta tau Delta and Phi Delta Theta – Oregon State Univeristy fraternities – used to help with the event. In addition, Starker Forest Products has donated trees for the display since its inception in 1981, Philomath Equipment Rental would loan equipment for free and Consumer Power would provide electricity.

The Pastega Lights Display was a tradition supported by these and many other local businesses, schools and businesses in Corvallis.

Now, Pastega said people can view past pictures of the lights display on their website. In the meantime, he pointed out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Harrison street has a nativity display for people to view.

Another classic holiday event that has been cancelled is the annual Corvallis Community Christmas parade, which has been happening for 35 years now. For the last 25 years, the parade has been organized by the local Lion’s Club and led by chairman Marc Vomocil for around 22 of those years.

The parade would start at the corner of 4th and Washington Street and end at the Benton County Courthouse, where the tree lighting ceremony would take place. This is the first time the parade has been cancelled in its 35-year history.

Typically, Vomocil said the parade would feature about 70 entries, whether they were floats, walk-in entries, animals or music, with approximately three to five thousand spectators each year. Since it’s a nighttime parade, entries would be illuminated with lights.

“It’s not a fundraiser, it’s just meant to be a gift to the community,” Vomocil said. “Entries come from businesses and 4-H groups and school groups. That’s why I call it a grassroots, home-grown parade. It’s meant to be fun, it’s not meant to accomplish anything except give spectators some enjoyment, especially children.”

Like the Pastega Lights Display, the annual Christmas Parade received a lot of support from local businesses, as well as the police department, fire department, public works, the City Parks and Rec department, and volunteers.

Vomocil said that when the Pastega Lights Display was cancelled, it was a red flag to him. He added that at the parade, spectators are usually jammed shoulder-to-shoulder along the route, with 50 to 75 people in each entry. 

“I hope we can restart it next year, 2021,” Vomocil said. “We’ll have to see how the pandemic plays out, whether I can get enough volunteers to pull it off, it’s getting harder every year. But it’d be my goal to do it again.”

For people looking for displays and decorations, Vomocil recommends simply driving through Corvallis. 

“Many, many homes in Corvallis are decorated,” Vomocil said. “I’ve spent a couple evenings just driving along neighborhoods, just my wife and I in the car, looking at decorations that families have put up on their houses.”

Additionally, the Benton County courthouse is decorated as usual this year, with their lighted Christmas tree on display for all to see.

To help lift spirits, Jennifer Moreland, executive director of the Downtown Corvallis Association, organized a fundraiser with GoFundMe to raise funds for the purchase and installation of lights around the base of trees in downtown Corvallis.

Moreland noted in an email that annual traditions like the Downtown Corvallis Wine Walk, the Fall Festival, the Corvallis Christmas Parade and the Pastega Drive-Through Lights have been cancelled, among others.

She said that though there have not really been complaints from local residents regarding cancelled events, there are feelings of sadness that they are unable to do those events this year. 

“The Downtown Corvallis Association is looking forward to 2021 and hopefully being able to host events again when it is safe and legal to do so,” Moreland said.

Additionally, for Corvallis residents who would like some form of entertainment or celebration, Moreland suggests people do a tour of the murals in downtown Corvallis from the Corvallis Mural Project.