DOWNEY – Now in its 63rd year, the Downey Christmas Parade takes place this Sunday -- rain or shine -- on Downey Avenue. The parade begins at 1:30 p.m. at Downey and Florence avenues, heading south to its ending point at City Hall.
Presented by the Downey Chamber of Commerce, the parade features floats, marching bands, equestrian units, clowns, fire trucks, Santa Claus, and more.
This year’s parade grand marshal is Jennifer DeKay, publisher of The Downey Patriot. Police Chief Carl Charles and Fire Chief Mark Gillaspie are the community parade marshals.
L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe and former Downey Civic Light Opera executive director Marsha Moode will host the parade, their 28th year.
Below are bios on each of the marshals, as provided by the Downey Chamber of Commerce.
Chief Carl Charles was born and raised in Inglewood, California, and attended local public schools. He graduated from Morningside High School in 1985. When Carl was a sophomore in high school, he attended a law enforcement presentation by a canine officer, and was immediately convinced that police work was the job for him.
Chief Charles began his law enforcement career with the Downey Police Department in 1990 when he was hired as a police officer recruit and attended the 267th class of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy in the city of Whittier.
After graduation from the academy, Carl was assigned to patrol. In 1993, he was assigned to the Detective Bureau, where he worked as a narcotics investigator. In 1995, Carl was promoted to the rank of sergeant and subsequently returned to Patrol as a field supervisor.
In 1998, Carl became the first sergeant to head the Special Operations Unit. In 2000, he returned to the Detective Bureau to supervise Special Investigations, which included Narcotics and Gangs, respectively. In 2002, Carl was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and served as a Patrol Watch Commander until May of 2004, when he was assigned to oversee Professional Standards and Training.
One year later, Carl transferred to the Detective Bureau and was promoted to the rank of Captain in 2009. Over the next several years, Carl managed all three divisions and in December of 2012, he was appointed Chief of Police.
Carl has received numerous commendations and awards, and was named Downey Police Officer of the Year in 2001.
Carl has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology from California State University, Northridge and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. He is also a graduate of the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute. Carl has been happily married for almost 20 years and has two children.
Jennifer DeKay is owner and publisher of The Downey Patriot, Downey’s award-winning weekly newspaper.
As owner of The Downey Patriot, Jennifer ensures Downey has a newspaper that serves both as a watchdog for the city and sounding board for the city’s 111,000 residents. The newspaper is produced by an independent team of employees and community correspondents, resulting in fair, robust and well-rounded coverage of Downey news and events.
Since taking over The Downey Patriot in 2006, Jennifer has introduced a Sports page, a twice-monthly column by Dr. Alan Frischer, a restaurant page, and special advertising sections that cater to Downey’s business community.
She has also invested in the Patriot’s future, ramping up the newspaper’s website and social media presence. Today, the Patriot’s website enjoys continued growth while the its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts continue to engage readers and foster community discussion.
Jennifer has been a Downey girl her entire life. She attended Good Shepherd Lutheran School and East Middle School before graduating from Downey High in 1990. Jennifer was a cheerleader in high school, and was named varsity co-captain with Christine Foslien her senior year.
Jennifer was very active while growing up in Downey. During her elementary years, she played basketball, volleyball and softball through the Downey YMCA, in addition to Downey Ponytail softball.
She was a Miss Downey Princess in 1990 and 1991. Being a Princess provided her with many opportunities through the Downey Rose Float Association, such as attending mixers and ribbon cuttings hosted by the Downey Chamber of Commerce, and riding the Downey Rose Float Association’s entry in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.
When she passed on her crown, Jennifer’s involvement with the city of Downey grew as she became an ambassador and celebrity chair for the Downey Holiday Lane Parade, and an on-camera field reporter for Continental Cablevision.
Jennifer earned an AA degree and paralegal certificate from Cerritos College, where she became a princess on the Homecoming Court, earned five Bronze Falcon Awards, and made the Dean’s List. She transferred to Cal State Fullerton, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Communications, with an emphasis in Public Relations.
After graduation from Cal State Fullerton, Jennifer worked in the publicity department for the hit television show “Baywatch,” as a junior account executive for Spelling Communications and as a sales promotions manager for DirecTV. Jennifer helped small businesses to market and promote DirecTV to potential customers, playing a key role in launching DirecTV PARA TODOS, the company’s first Spanish-language programming service, and aiding in the initial development of the company’s advertising co-op program.
Community involvement has always been important to Jennifer. She is a member of Downey Rotary, and is a board member for the Downey Rose Float Association. She served as a Miss Downey chaperone in 2012.
She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women for 2011-12. In 2010, Assemblyman Hector De La Torre named Jennifer a Woman of Distinction and Woman of the Year in the Media category.
In recognition of her significant accomplishments, Jennifer was inducted into the Downey High School Hall of Fame in 2013.
Jennifer enjoys staying active in the community with her 4-year-old daughter, Alexis.
Mark Allen Gillaspie was born and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, where much of his family still lives. In 1985, after spending the summer in Downey with a college roommate, Mark decided to remain in California and soon thereafter began pursuing his fire service calling.
Mark attended Rio Hondo College’s fire academy prior to joining the Downey Fire Department. He began his fire service career volunteering as an auxiliary firefighter with the Downey and Santa Fe Springs Fire Departments. During that time, he also served as a part-time dispatcher with the department. In 1989, Mark was hired as a full-time Firefighter with Downey Fire Department.
Mark Gillaspie quickly promoted through the ranks. He worked as a Paramedic, Engineer, and Fire Captain prior to promoting to Battalion Chief in 2000. He was an incident commander of countless local emergency incidents and led numerous strike team deployments throughout the southern California area.
In 2011, Mark was promoted to Assistant Fire Chief, overseeing field operations, the department’s multi-agency Communications Center, and managed the department’s fire prevention bureau as the City’s Fire Marshal. As the City’s Emergency Manager, he also oversaw the City’s emergency preparedness efforts.
He is a certified state fire officer and chief officer, and is currently a state qualified strike team leader, safety officer, hazardous materials technician, and urban search and rescue task force leader. Mark is currently working on his Emergency Management Specialist credential with the California Specialist Training Institute and FEMA’s professional development series.
Mark has been married for the past 25 years to his wife, Sue, who attended Pius X High School in Downey. They are the proud parents of three adult sons: Jake, Mitchell, and Bret.
Published: Dec. 4, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 34