The 41st annual Ahwatukee Kiwanis Easter Parade steps off Saturday with one Easter bunny – and only one.
Limiting the parade to one adult-sized Easter bunny is a policy that the sponsoring Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee is firm on – as one costumed adult discovered a few years back.
“About three years ago, when Vision Community Management became the grand sponsor, they supplied the Official Easter Bunny. That was the year that we had an intimate conversation with an unofficial Easter bunny, who then left her float for other pursuits,” laughed Mike Schmitt, Easter Parade Boss and longtime Kiwanian.
Schmitt originated the term “Official Easter Bunny” in 2012 after it became a sponsored position.
And then the unthinkable happened that year: seven full-size bunnies appeared on the scene – enough to make the Official Easter Bunny nearly hopping mad.
To ensure against another proliferation of faux rabbits, the parade entry form now warns: “The ‘Official Easter Bunny’ is a parade sponsor, so no other adult-sized Easter bunny costumes, please.” Kid-size bunnies or bunny-ears headbands or hats are welcome.
Just leave the adult-size Easter bunny costume at home so the official hare – sponsored again this year by Vision Community Management – can shine in pink-tinged ears and fuzzy whiteness, shaking paws with parade goers and posing for cellphone selfies.
As the parade’s grand sponsor for the fifth year, Ahwatukee-based Vision Community Management, which manages HOA communities, is the caretaker of the Official Easter Bunny.
According to Vision Community Management’s CEO, Darin Fisher, being the big bunny is both an honor and an uncomfortable experience.
With warm-to-hot temperatures on parade day, former bunnies said, the plush head-to-toe suit can become a challenge.
Making a cool bunny
So Fisher had an idea.
“It can be very warm in that costume,” agreed Fisher. “While we had previously rented the bunny suit and other characters featured on our floats each year, we finally purchased our own.
“The new suit has secret areas inside to hold ice packs as well as cleverly disguised venting solutions,” he explained. “And we have been very careful to never allow parade watchers, particularly the kids, to see the Easter bunny unmasked or lifting up the head to cool down and hydrate.”
Tempe-based Brewer’s Air Conditioning & Heating was a long-time parade sponsor beginning in 1982, when it was owned by Ahwatukee resident Jerry Brewer.
When it was sold, new owners Dale Falk and Tim Riley, a Kiwanis of Ahwatukee member, kept the tradition alive. Falk has since retired from the company.
The Official Easter Bunny costume was occupied various years by Brewer, Riley, employees and even Riley’s daughters.
“I did the suit two or three years out of the last 15,” said Riley. “Jerry used to be the bunny when I first started but then he let employees and their children do the honor. My daughters did it once as well.”
Those who have shared the honor of striding the mile north on 48th Street as the Official Easter Bunny for the Kiwanis Easter Parade recall the joy on the faces of children and adults.
“Our bunny doesn’t remain seated on the float, instead opting to work the crowd, pose for pictures and light up as many faces as possible,” said Fisher,
Fisher’s business is heavily involved in community activities, and he is a founding director of the Ahwatukee Chamber Community Foundation.
Riley said photo ops are a fun part of the bunny gig.
“I did several photo ops at different times, and that was always a pleasure. You’d be surprised to see how many adults wanted their photo with the bunny more so than the kids!” recalled Riley. “They were all wonderful experiences to see the looks on kids’ faces.”
Spring Fling caps the march
Heading the post-parade Spring Fling for the 15th year is Kiwanis Club member Andi Pettyjohn.
“The Spring Fling Carnival and Craft Fair seems to get bigger and better every year. This is the 17th year that the Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee has sponsored the Easter Parade and Spring Fling,” she said.
Open to 5 p.m., it offers entertainment for kids and adults.
Entry is free but carnival rides, the Easter Egg Hunt and food and drinks require the purchase of tickets.
“The event is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club and takes months of planning and organization,” Pettyjohn said, adding:
“A very popular event with Ahwatukee families, it’s so much fun to see so many community members gather together for an afternoon of fun.”
The egg hunts comprise more than 30 pounds of candy encased in plastic eggs and are held throughout the day, as carnival rides and games keep youngsters happy.
Up to 60 local merchants, crafters, food and drink booths and live onstage entertainment keep adults amused.
The Kiwanis Easter Parade and the Spring Fling are organized by the 27-member Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee with proceeds earmarked for community and Kiwanis charities. Local Key Clubs from Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe High Schools assist with the Spring Fling.