We continue to look at Zippity Doo Dah® and the people behind next weekend’s event. Today, we meet Merrill McKewen…
As a coordinator of special events, Merrill McKewen knows about the VIP treatment. She’s worked with members of Congress, James Brown, Smokey Robinson and the like. But the red carpet doesn’t get rolled any wider or finer than it does for horses. McKewen is speaking of a very special group of horses, the Budweiser Clydesdales, who will be in Fondren all next weekend as part of Zippity Doo Dah®. “I’ve never in my life seen the kind of care and reverence they receive” she says just days before they arrive from St. Louis, Missouri. McKewen is part of the team who helped to secure the Clydesdales for ZDD™ events. She’s quick to credit a team much larger than just herself for how this year’s 2nd annual event is coming together. “Jim Wilkirson and his staff do a wonderful job and he has a wonderful vision”. And, she says, the people here are to thank as well. “The community at large, the businesses and the neighborhoods; it’s a rock solid group who has one purpose in common – to have a great, inclusive, safe and happy neighborhood”.
How did McKewen find herself a part of this purpose? “Jill (Conner Browne) and Jeff (Good) have been friends of mine for a long time”, she tells us. “When they talked about this event, they wanted someone who could look at everything evenly since there’s Fondren and the Queens and Batson. There are so many entities and they wanted one person representing everyone’s best interest”. In her second year to be involved, McKewen takes the role of a producer of sorts. “I’m vessel with all the info”, she says. I have it if I need it. I keep my eyes out for everyone”. And she’s looking at how successful this has been and will be again for Fondren – and the state as a whole.
Looking back on last year’s first event, McKewen says it was well attended and family friendly. “We had 10,000 people in the area” she tells us, “and at the end, gave Batson Hospital for Children a check for $65,000. That’s success”. McKewen says organizers were surprised when they opened the new children’s ER at Batson that there’s an exam room named the Zippity Doo Dah® Parade and Sweet Potato Queens® room. “We were completely thrilled and stunned – and happy – we could make that impact, just by having fun in Fondren”.
McKewen cites the involvement of JSU with the stadium and Dr. Carolyn Myers as grand marshal as big factors in making this year even better. “And of course”, she mentions, “the Sonic Boom, Jackson State’s marching band known all over the world”. McKewen is also thankful for the generosity of Southern Beverage (who got the Clydesdales here) and Patty Peck Honda who has once again given a “lovely Honda” (Civic) as a raffle giveaway for Friends of Children’s Hospital (Batson). McKewen goes on to say that this year, people seem to know what they’re getting into. “Merchants didn’t really know what last year would look like”, she says, “but they along with the restaurants are excited and ready for community wide event”. As for those special horses, McKewen says they’re not just big, beautiful and impressive but they are a big deal. “It’s worth folks coming out to see them”. zddcomm