SEQUIM — Through his volunteer work, Guy Horton took people to Oz, Rome and even up into Sequim’s grain elevator and down into its irrigation ditches.
Now, after designing and building 14 royalty floats for the Sequim Irrigation Festival, the 59-year-old telecommunications accounts manager looks to pass the reins — or, in his case, the keys — to the float’s 1988 Ford Crown Victoria station wagon into new hands.
“It means a lot to be a part of the history and legacy of our community and make a positive impact,” Horton said recently from inside the festival’s float barn off North Fifth Avenue on the Littlejohn property.
Horton has spent thousands of hours there designing, repurposing, building and collaborating on floats with dozens of crew members.
“I just love it,” he said. “I’m going to miss it. It’s been a labor of love.”
Horton has been involved in some capacity with the festival since 2002, following his wife Lynn a few years later.
Lynn now serves as the royalty mentor and pageant co-director.
He recalled his first efforts with a float, helping to finish one in 2004 before he took on design duties the following year.
The festival continued to flow through his life as he served stints as the festival’s car show director, Kickoff Dinner host and master of ceremonies for the royalty pageant while making lifelong friends, connecting with Sequim students and even officiating the wedding of former festival queen Karla Najera.
“I’ve seen kids as button design winners (in fifth grade) join the royalty (in high school) and now have kids years later,” he said.
“To represent this community is an honor. I’m proud of the craftsmanship and work.”
Deon Kapetan, former festival executive director, met Horton as a board volunteer and said her experience with him has been great.
“In the years I’ve been with the festival, he’s one of the best float designers and builders we’ve had,” she said. “The number of awards his floats have won have been tremendous.”
Kapetan said the paddle wheel boat from 2016 won an award at every event and parade, including Grand Sweepstakes.
“That’s pretty cool considering people from cities with big budgets were paid to build their floats,” she said.
Horton said the float and royalty serve as Sequim’s representatives to the public.
“It may seem corny, but we tell people we’ve been doing this 126 years in a row, which is only a few years less than Washington has been a state,” he said.
“People don’t know, especially newcomers.”
Kapetan said the float helps put Sequim’s name on a map for people, particularly in larger communities.
In an airport in Sioux Falls, S.D., Horton said he heard a woman on the phone telling someone she was at the Victoria Day Parade and saw a float that looked like a real paddle wheel boat. He introduced himself and told her he designed it.
Horton said she didn’t believe him until he showed her pictures on his phone.
“It filled my heart,” he said.
With so many memorable moments and experiences as designer, the 125th festival’s float reveal on Sept. 19, 2020, stands among the top, Horton said.
The royalty court was crowned right before COVID-19 began to shut down countless events earlier in the year, and Horton said he was unsure what the festival’s board would do.
Directors decided to have a virtual float reveal at 7 Cedars Casino and keep the Kickoff Dinner and float reveal traditions.
Horton drove the float, showing off the Olympic Mountains, twice around the parking lot with royalty onboard.
“They were squealing and laughing and giggling,” he said. “It was one of the most memorable moments in all the years doing this.”
That year, the royalty was only able to participate in the kickoff and a procession through Sequim a few weeks later.
In his 14 designs, Horton said he never thought to “dumb down” any ideas.
“I’m all in and not going to build a half-baked product,” he said.
He invested more than 1,000 volunteer hours each in the paddle wheel boat and Wizard of Oz floats, he said, with a typical build schedule at the barn from the end of December to March prior to the Kickoff Dinner.
For the next designer, Horton said the float can become anything — but he encourages a clear direction.
Each year, the board picks a theme and storyline before going to a designer for the logo.
Horton said he switched each year between whimsical and more organic.
“It’s a big art project,” he said. “It’s a project manager job that requires the ability to work with people.”
“They should be a ‘we’ person because it’s about our team, and that’s really the whole organization,” he added.
Board members plan to hold the 127th consecutive festival in 2022 in person, including the Grand Parade and many other events next May. Its theme is “Our little piece of Heaven.”
The Sequim Irrigation Festival’s board continues to look for volunteers, including some event directors.
Director positions include: float construction, Crazy Daze Breakfast, Street Dance and Fun Run. If interested, email [email protected] or call or text 360-808-0645.