One of the hardest workers in preparing for Arkalalah each year received an early birthday present Oct. 23.
Tony Tapia was named the grand marshal of the 86th Arkalalah Festival, following a meeting of the Arkalalah Executive Committee and the various public services that make the annual celebration possible.
Tapia, who serves as parks and facilities director for the City of Arkansas City, was one of several city employees who attended the meeting at the Arkansas City Police Department.
He has been employed by the city for 18 years — which is the same number of years he has prepped the city for Arkalalah. This year, his birthday will coincide with Arkalalah Saturday.
Arkalalah Executive Secretary Tasha Bucher handed Tapia a bag at the tail end of the meeting.
When he removed a T-shirt from the bag, he seemed hesitant.
“What do I have to do?” he asked, holding up the shirt with the designation of “Arkalalah Grand Marshall 2017” on it.
The committee explained he will have to attend Coronation and participate in the Big Parade.
“You can either walk or ride in a limo,” said Arkalalah Executive Committee Chairman Traver Herman.
“Or you can walk with your grandson,” Bucher said.
“I think I’ll take ‘Slugo’ with me,” Tapia said of his grandson, Evan. Tapia often can be seen walking him up and down Summit Street in a stroller when off duty.
As part of his regular duties, Tapia and his crew spend weeks preparing for Arkalalah, from street cleanup to the installation of electrical poles for vendors that line the side streets downtown.
His team also puts out Porta-Potties and road barriers that keep downtown Summit Street devoid of traffic on Arkalalah Saturday.
Tapia oversees 14 employees who maintain 20 city parks and various facilities, including City Hall, the Agri-Business Building, the Northwest Community Center, the Senior Citizens Center and the Hogan.