LIFESTYLE

Pat and Merle Brown named grand marshalls

Chelsea McDougall

 This year’s Prime Beef Festival parade will have a new look. PBF President Chuck Talley chose two local citizens to lead the parade festivities as grand marshals, rather than opting for the traditional honor going to one person. The Prime Beef Festival is held Sept. 3-5 in Monmouth. The parade is Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 5 p.m.

Pat and Merle Brown have lived in Monmouth for nearly 65 years. Both remain active in the community. Many local citizens will remember the pair portraying Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus during the Christmas season.

“I started out when I was first called on (by co-workers to portray Santa),” Merle said of his 25 years portraying jolly old St. Nick. “And each year it got bigger and bigger.”

“It was always the little children that were so fun,” Pat added. “They always gathered around and had such believing eyes.”

But health problems forced Merle to retire his red suit and keep a clean-shaven face year round.

Merle started growing his recognizable white beard around this time of year. By the Christmas season, Merle’s face transformed to look like the jolly man in red.

“It was a very nice beard if I do say so myself,” Merle said.

Merle portrayed Santa at area schools, churches, nursing homes, hospitals, parades and for his family.

Merle was proud of his days as Santa. He has a large scrapbook, covered in red, candy cane patterned fabric, that displays his years of labor and love for area children.

Among the many pictures of Merle in his red get up, are letters of thanks from parents, teachers and other members of the community.

In past years, Pat read children’s letters to Santa aloud on a half-hour local radio show during the holiday season. She recalled some strange gift requests - one child asked for a Lamborghini.

Pat and Merle can remember missing only one PBF parade - when Pat gave birth several weeks before.

“I had a child born in September,” Pat recalled. “I remember (son Dennis) saying, ‘I hope when we have my next little brother, he doesn’t come at the time of the parade.’”

Pat said she was surprised being asked to serve as grand marshal. “We were flattered when asked to do it,” Pat said. “I thought it was a compliment.”

Talley said there were no other people he had in mind for the honor. “They have been here many years and have served as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus for the kids,” Talley said. “Not only that they have volunteered their time over the years to quite a great extent. I felt they needed to be recognized for that. ... I think they are a fantastic selection for the grand marshals of the parade.”

In more than a half century of living in the Maple City, the Browns have seen Monmouth transform into the city it has become today. The couple spoke fondly of the town where all four of their sons grew into men, where the bonds of lasting friendships were formed and where some of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now growing up.

“We never dreamed we’d be here all our lives, but this is where we’ve stayed. ... If the walls in our house could talk, they’d have a lot of stories to tell,” Pat said. “All in all, we’ve had a very rich life. Not rich with dollars and cents, but with friends and activities.”

Pat and Merle say they are “family oriented” and for that family, education plays a large role. Out of their 11 grandchildren, they have seen 10 graduate from college, with one just graduating from high school and on his way to college.

“That’s a record and a half,” Pat said proudly.

Pat and Merle came to Monmouth in the winter of 1945, while Merle served in World War II. Pat moved to the home where they still reside on North C Street with her mother and four-month-old newborn baby.

“We have seen a lot of changes in our time,” Pat said. “I think there’s a bond among people in a small town.”

“There are some people that are perfectly happy with what a small town offers, and we are those people.”

Pat and her mother operated the Gift Nook, a commercial entertainment business out of their home. The mother daughter team held parties, showers and other club events. “It was long, hard hours,” Pat said. “It was a time when we didn’t have a microwave or cake mixes. Everything was made from scratch.”

That opportunity allowed for Pat to meet many people in the community. They ran the business from 1945 to 1956. Pat also owned and operated a beauty parlor downtown, in a building that is now a parking lot on South Main Street.

Merle worked for 37 years for Illinois Power as a lineman.

Pat and Merle have been married for 65 years this September; they have four sons, Jim, Monmouth, Tary, Albany, Ga., Dennis, Aledo, and Kriss, Naperville.