Some things are just synonymous. Peanut butter and jelly, Batman and Robin, Mickey and Minnie, and the Trinity Valley Exposition parades and Sandra Sterling.
At 87, Sterling has decided it is time to step down as the announcer of the baby parade and rodeo parade after 45 years. However, she will be honored this year as the grand marshal of the rodeo parade, which takes place at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, in downtown Liberty.
“There just comes a time in life when you have to let some things go. That’s what I feel like I did. It was time,” she said. “Bill Buchanan (former KSHN Radio station owner) once asked me how long I have been doing the parades, and I told him, ‘Since God made dirt.'”
Sterling will be escorted by her husband, Jimmy Sterling, who will be driving the couple’s 1988 red Mercedes convertible.
Typically, the grand marshal is recipient of the TVE E. B. Baker Award. However, an exception was made this year to recognize Sterling, who was recommended by Jennifer Regen and Brittany Hudnall, the mother-and-daughter team who have collectively organized the parade for the last 20 years.
“I am so excited that she is willing to continue helping us and is passing on that torch to the next generation,” Regen said. “While the parades won’t be the same to me without her, Sandra will be there to help make sure things go as perfectly as possible. She is leaving some huge shoes to fill.”
Debuting this year at the announcer’s microphone will be Leslie Lawrence, who works alongside Sterling at the Valley Players, the community theater group in Liberty.
The decision to step back from announcing the TVE Baby Parade and the TVE Rodeo Parade evolved over the last two years. Sterling said it had become more difficult getting up and down from the stage.
“It was a commitment I was happy to do for 45 years. I loved doing it. I felt like I knew what was going on in the community. I spent three weeks prior to the parades calling all of the businesses, organizations and people to get information on their entries. Then I would prepare a script. It was a lot of work,” she said. “I am a little sad giving it up, but I will be proud of the next person doing it. It’s time for someone younger to have the enjoyment that I have had all these years.”
While she is taking a step back from some responsibilities, Sterling is still busier than most folks her age. She and her husband have organized the TVE Wine Tasting event for the last seven years and have dozens of years of service with the Valley Players. A previous stage performer in the plays and musicals, Sterling is the chairman of the board and now works in the box office selling tickets on show nights.
Originally from Oklahoma City, she was 12 years old when she moved to Liberty with her parents, M.E. “Hank” Shrader and Alma Shrader. She was one of three children. The family lived on the corner of Centennial and Maryland streets in Liberty, a home now owned by her sister, Sharon Kemper. Their parents later moved to a 136-acre farm in Dayton.
When the family moved to Liberty, Sterling said she was cautioned by her mom about gossiping.
“She said, ‘Don’t ever talk about anyone in Liberty because they are all kin to each other or know each other,'” Sterling said with a laugh. “It was true.”
At the time her family moved to Liberty, there were just two paved streets – Main and Cos. She remembers shopping at Autry’s General Store, which was located at the present-day site of Prosperity Bank.
Sterling recalls being so shy at the time that she couldn’t even take a speech class in school for fear of having to speak before others. Her confidence was boosted when she was asked to be in a play as an adult.
“It unlocked something in me. That’s when the theater met at the TVE Fairgrounds. We had no fancy lighting or stage,” she said.
Despite its humble beginnings, the Valley Players became the beneficiary of a donation by the Geraldine D. Humphreys Foundation. In 1970, the Geraldine D. Humphreys Cultural Center was opened on the 1700 block of Sam Houston St. in Liberty, where the Humpheys once had a home called the Seven Pines. The donation was made in honor of Kalita Humphreys Burson, Geraldine’s daughter. Kalita is credited as being the founder of the Valley Players. Kalita was an American actress who had a successful career on the repertory theater until she and her husband, Joe, were killed in a plane crash in 1954. The Geraldine D. Humphreys Cultural Center is home to the Liberty Municipal Library and the Valley Players.
Sterling was honored in the past as Citizen of the Year for the now-defunct Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, and as a recipient of the Community Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Community Builder Award from the Masonic Lodge.
“I have been really blessed. I love this community, and anything I can do to give back to it, I will do,” she said.