OROVILLE – John and Joy Lawson have the honor of being this year’s May Festival Grand Marshals and will preside over the Grand Parade.
“We are really honored to be Grand Marshals. I saw my first May Day parade in 1953 and I haven’t missed one since,” said Joy, when asked what she thought of being chosen as Grand Marshals.
Good naturedly her husband jokes,”I tried to give it away, but no one would take it.”
Joy says when they aren’t in the parade, they like to get there early and walk up one side of the street and then the other seeing all the people you only see at May Festival time.
“So many people make a special trip to be home at May Day,” she said.
The musically-inclined couple came from neighboring states and met in Oroville and married in the 1950s, joining two families together into one. John came to Oroville from Springfield, Missouri in 1946 when he was 16 and Joy came from Arkansas via Tacoma in September of 1952. He said that Bob Drummond, who helped to start the first May Festival, tried to get him in enrolled in school, but John was too busy at the time. However, much later in life he earned his GED.
“My brother-in-law and sister were here at the time and I came to make my fortune picking apples and never left,” John said with a laugh.
John first went to work for Dave Thorndike, then for Art Blacker. He actually did leave for a three-year stint working in California for an aircrafts parts manufacturer, but he came back. He said he worked at various jobs in the apple industry, including from 1972 until the Valley Evaporation Corporation, a fruit dryer in Oroville, closed. He and the late Tommy Dull raised 21 acres of apple trees near the Gordon Roberts place, he adds.
Joy says she came to Oroville only planning to stay until spring. Her parents lived here and her father worked for the railroad building a bridge.
“My circumstances changed and I liked the area so well I never wanted t leave,” she said.
Joy worked at several jobs over the years, including as a waitress for Mom’s Lunch, checking groceries for Harold Wilson at the Cascade Market and packing apples.
“I took an accounting class and then worked as a bookkeeper until I retired in 1996,” she said.
The couple met in 1956 on a blind date set up by Bill and Verna Echler and John and Nora Steward, according to Joy.
“They were the instigators,” added John.
John had two sons, Mike and Greg, ages seven and four and Joy had a son and daughter, Beverly and Jimmy, ages seven and four. Together they had a daughter Callie.
“When we got married the kids were the same ages so it worked out great,” said Joy. “It was never like his kids and my kids… it was our kids. They really got along well and all are still friends.”
In 2007, the family lost Mike Lawson to lung cancer, which the couple said was hard on everyone, especially his brother Greg. Together they have 16 grandchildren and “more great grandkids than grandkids” they said.
John was a volunteer with the Oroville Fire Department for 14 years and served two years as parade chairman and Joy was elected as secretary-treasurer of the cemetery board, a positions she’s held for 10 years. They were even chosen as Senior Citizen royalty one year.
“Our family has the best memories of the area, waterskiing, picnics at the lake, fishing, hunting and camping… we never wanted to leave,” said Joy.
John also liked to bowl, bowling in a league for many years, pitched horseshoes and played softball.
John said he and Bob Irwin would go down the Columbia River once a week during fishing season and it wasn’t unusual for them to catch 18 to 20 pound fish at different times.
Despite all the various activities they’ve enjoyed over the years, their first love has to be playing music. John plays mandolin, fiddle, bass and regular guitar and Joy plays guitar and sings.
“The one thing we live for is playing music… we play at least once a week,” said John. “We play with four people from Osoyoos and take turns playing in each others homes.”
In addition the couple plays at the Oroville Senior Center the first Friday of each month.
“We also play in different old folks homes like in Keremeos and Osoyoos,” Joy said.
They describe the music they like to play as “just old-time country music.”
In the past they were members of the Old Time Fiddlers and used to play at the Tonasket Grand Old Opry each year. For about 20 years they used to travel to Conconully to play at a big campout held each year at the state park.
“We played at the county fair too,” John said.
The Grand Marshals will be heading up the parade this year and will be at many of the events scheduled over the weekend.