Pancake Day has always been a favorite celebration for politicians. Throughout the years, the Iowa governor has always been invited to attend Pancake Day, and many would then serve as the Parade Marshal during the Big Parade. In the early 1950s, Gov. William S. Beardsley attended and in the mid-1950s, Gov. Leo Heogh attended.
In 1956, Gov. Heogh arrived on the Square via helicopter, which provided political fodder for his opponent that year, Hershel Loveless, to criticize him. The Pancake Day Committee was quick to take responsibility for the helicopter ride, but Loveless used it to criticize Heogh, nonetheless. Loveless was the next governor, and he continued the tradition of visiting Pancake Day in the late 1950s.
In 1961, Gov. Norman Erbe attended the festivities, then in the mid-1960s, Gov. Harold Hughes came to town. Gov. Robert Ray was a favorite during the 1970s, and later, Gov. Terry Branstad found his way to Centerville a few times for Pancake Day. In 2001, Gov. Tom Vilsack from Mt. Pleasant was on hand.
Other politicians have also visited Pancake Day, sometimes making a few waves. In 1952, Estes Kefauver, the famous Democratic Tennessee senator who made a name for himself for attacking organized crime and campaigning often in a coonskin cap, was on hand to make a rousing political speech, as was Republican Dewey Short of Missouri. Kefauver had just lost his party’s nomination for president, so while at Pancake Day, he flipped a few pancakes and announced his endorsement of Adlai Stevenson. He would later go on to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate in 1956, though they lost by a landslide to Eisenhower.
The New York Times reported on Sept. 25, 1964, “In this Republican town that looks as if it were designed by Norman Rockwell, W. Averell Harriman, sheepishly, and Mrs. Hubert Humphrey, expertly, flipped political pancakes.” Mrs. Humphrey was the wife of the democratic candidate for president, Hubert Humphrey, and W. Averell Harriman was the Under Secretary of State.
But not all of Pancake Day’s famous visitors were politicians. Several notable personalities have been parade marshals over the years, including J.C. Penny in 1961, boxer Rocky Marciano in 1965, Mike Lozano from WHO-TV in Des Moines in 1983, “Iowa Boy” Chuck Offenburger in 1986, and hometown success stories Simon Estes in 1997 and Morgan Cline in 2000.
Some lesser known, but notable visitors included Phillip Pillsbury of the Pillsbury Company, was here in 1962 to witness first-hand where all of the donated pancake flour was used. Taking a turn at flipping a few pancakes, he proved himself to be a better businessman than chef. He burnt the pancakes so badly they couldn’t be eaten. In 1958, the first runner-up in the Miss America pageant, Joanne McDonald was on hand, and in 1959, Mrs. America Margaret Priebe, and National Baton Twirling Champion, Joyce Rice came for the day.
Another famous visitor that came in 2001 and 2002 was not a person, but a car. Rubbermaid Home Products brought in one of the actual race car driven by Kurt Busch in the Nascar Winston Cup Series. While in Centerville, it was on standby in case it needed to replace the car being used in the Nascar race that same weekend at the Kansas Speedway. The car was driven around the square prior to the parade, because the engines weren’t designed to go at the slower pace of the parade and would overheat.
Who knows who you might see at Pancake Day? Keep your eyes open – you might see someone famous!