By Diane Euston
Fake Irish accents, a sea of Kelly green shirts, shamrocks and certainly some jig dancing for good measure.
What started as a joke amongst friends and patrons has transformed into one of Kansas City’s most celebrated St. Patrick’s parades.
It wasn’t the luck of the Irish – or an Irish man at all – at the beginnings 30 years ago of the Martin City parade.
Raymond Charles VanNoy, Jr., better known to all as “R.C.,” was an ambitious businessman that helped transform Martin City into what it is today.
Born in Kansas City in 1929, R.C. is a prime example of a self-made man who used his intuition, creativity and experience to preserve the town of Martin City and persevere in the restaurant industry for over 50 years.
“He was an idea-man, and he had high hopes and dreams for Martin City,” son Chuck VanNoy stated.
R.C. saw business opportunities in a quaint, little town on 150 hwy. Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse was opened in 1938 by two friends, Jess Kincaid and Jim Wright. And Jim happened to be one of R.C.’s cousins.
So R.C. headed out to Martin City in 1949 and was hired to help run the dining room and host hungry patrons.
R.C. married his bride, Lois Chiarelli in 1953 and had four children. Two of his boys, Mike and David, currently run Jess & Jim’s and R.C.’s.
The location was hit by an infamous tornado in 1957 and then was then moved to its present location where it has stood as a landmark, cow and all, for over 50 years.
Partner Jess Kincaid decided to leave the business and Jim needed help.
The rest is history; R.C. VanNoy bought into the bustling business and never looked back. Over the years, R.C. labored to transform Martin City into a landmark of local bars and restaurants.
Businesses such as the Martin City Melodrama, Twisters, Jack Stack, Chiarelli’s Pasta House, R.C.’s, Martin City Pub and El Cherito’s moved into the Martin City area, all anchored -and some owned- by R.C.’s ambition and ability to draw in a crowd.
This very ambition is at the heart of the history of the parade. In 1987, devoted bar patrons at Jess & Jim’s razzed R.C. when they said they were leaving to go to the downtown parade.
“You want a parade?! I’ll give you a parade,” R.C. declared over laughs from his regulars.
Thus, R.C. wrangled a few willing participants to drive slowly down then-150 hwy. and wave to the customers who had gathered on the curb to see what R.C. was doing.
R.C., Don Brauner, Bill Benthusen, and Pat Martly, the men credited with the birth of the parade, knew they were onto something. Each year, a few more cars would participate, starting at 2 o’clock on St. Patrick’s Day and ending with libations inside businesses. They’d stop traffic, pull cars onto the highway, and slowly promenade down the road.
It didn’t take long for the parade to grow from a few vehicles as a joke to 65 vehicles in 1993 to over 100 well-decorated floats in 1994.
R.C.’s daughter-in-law Debbie VanNoy explained, “Everyone had kegs and would throw Jell-O shots out to the adults and candy to the kids. It was such a fun day until we got caught.”
In 1994, the city didn’t buy Martin City’s claim that their St. Patrick’s Day parade was a “spontaneous event.” They threatened to shut the parade down unless they purchased a permit, hired police and bought insurance. It would be a violation of city ordinance if they continued.
That didn’t stop R.C., lifetime grand parade marshal. Instead of stopping traffic, they just squeezed the floats into the traffic circulating down 150 Hwy. and avoided any “violation.”
From 1995-forward, the Martin City Parade was pushed to the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day in order to ensure all laws were abided and to attract more patrons to the celebration.
In 2002, R.C. VanNoy passed away.
“People thought the area would die out when he died, but we have worked to preserve his memory,” Debbie VanNoy said.
Every year, R.C. would ride in his honorary grand marshal car and hold his beer up to all the people gathered on the sidewalks. His wife, Lois continued after R.C.’s death to ride in his place in the parade.
Lois passed away last year.
In true VanNoy fashion, the family has planned to continue on with the traditions brought about by R.C. and be present in the parade. Son Mike VanNoy and some of R.C.’s grandchildren will ride in R.C.’s car in his memory.
They know he would be so proud of what the Martin City CID has done over the past 14 years to revitalize his beloved town.
R.C. VanNoy spent over 50 years in the community building it into a destination for people far and wide. Even when he was retired, he could be seen lingering behind the bar telling one of his treasured stories.
“Our houses are where we go to sleep- the restaurants are our home,” Debbie VanNoy proclaimed.
And so R.C.’s gregarious personality and decades of hard work can be seen by all at the Martin City Parade and at the restaurants that remain as a part of his legacy.
“He was Martin City,” Debbie stated matter-of-factly.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read the stories, visit www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.