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Float finale for DeVore

October 26, 2000

Float finale for DeVore



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


Get a good look at Ralph DeVore as he promenades down Potomac Street Saturday night behind his fleet of five floats. His 40th Alsatia Mummers' Parade will be his last.

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If DeVore has his way, he'll be working in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., next year, helping people board Thunder Road or Blazing Fury or any of the other thrill rides at Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park.

DeVore no longer builds grand-scale fantasy scenes on wheels, like the 110-foot-long "Land of Oz," the huffing and puffing "Big Bad Wolf" and the giant ice cream sundae.

He already has said farewell to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Va., where his floats won the top prize 36 times in 40 years. He has stopped organizing the nationally televised Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia, which he oversaw for 29 years.

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Four decades is a nice limit for designing elaborate, colorful rolling platforms on which beauty queens, soap opera actors and sports stars bask, said DeVore, 65, of Williamsport.

He is not overly possessive of his work. After a float is done, it can be appreciated and fondly admired, but within reason.

"It's not like when you're creating and conceiving. It's now a material thing," said DeVore, who designs displays at Hecht's in the Valley Mall.

One of the big things in DeVore's life from now on will be the steel roller coaster at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va.

He gets excited when he talks about the best rides he's had, particularly the 95-mile-per-hour front-seat rush at an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.

DeVore, who had triple bypass heart surgery in March, said he's ready to leave Washington County and go south.

He started his professional art career as a designer for Lionel Toys in 1953, the day he graduated from high school.

He has taught at Washington County Career Studies Center, which is now Washington County Technical High School, and has done public relations for the Western Maryland library system.

DeVore said everything in his working life has been connected to art. If he's offered a design job at Dollywood now, he won't take it.

Float-making was fun, DeVore said, especially as a family business. But his wife, Luanne DeVore, died of cancer in 1991 when she was just 36.

The youngest of his six children, 20-year-old Angela, is grown and on her own, studying to be a film director and producer at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

"It's time to move, and that's the way I feel about the float business," DeVore said.

He has a supply of float stories that seems to never run out.

One of his favorite memories is meeting Baseball Hall of Fame centerfielder Joe DiMaggio, who made many public appearances, but never rode on a float until he was on one of DeVore's.

DeVore remembers that Columbus Day parade in Baltimore well. Men in pin-striped suits lined up around DiMaggio's float and passed along fistfuls of $50 and $100 bills for him to autograph.

Meeting Mickey Mantle was another thrill for DeVore, a New York Yankees fan. He's also enjoyed the other stars he's met, including Loni Anderson, Pearl Bailey and "NYPD Blue" actor Dennis Franz.

DeVore likes talking about his logistical conquests - how he rigged confetti to explode, or balloons to rush out, or waterfalls to gush on floats.

Or how he used horse and oxen teams on the dirt track at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds for the 1976 bicentennial parade.

He has one goal left: Build a float for a presidential inaugural parade. After two near misses, he thinks this election might be the one.

That would make a nice finale.

"For being a self-made individual in a self-made career, I'm grateful," DeVore said.

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