KENNEWICK -- The man leading the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo Grand Parade in Kennewick today will be wearing a straw hat and riding high on the tonneau of a 1965 red Ford Mustang convertible.
The meticulously restored car belongs to Jack Lippold with the Horse Heaven Mustangs, and his passenger is Leo Bowman, longtime Benton County commissioner and this year's grand marshal.
"It's a cool recognition. I'm extremely honored," said Bowman, 73, who has lived in the Tri-Cities since 1969.
His 16 years as a county commissioner and his dedication to the community as a Kiwanis International club member for 37 years have made him highly recognized.
"I was surprised at being selected," Bowman said. It will be his first time leading the fair parade, but his second at being a grand marshal. West Richland tapped Bowman several years ago to lead its Veterans Day parade.
"There's a lot of good people out there who've done a lot of good things," he said.
The honor is well-timed, because Bowman is retiring as county commissioner at the end of the year.
"I've always been supportive of the fair, and I believe it is great for the kids," he said.
A native of Emmett, Idaho, Bowman got started in the tire business with Goodyear in Spokane, but soon found himself assigned to open a new store in Richland at the corner of George Washington Way and Jadwin Avenue.
In time, Bowman opened his own shop, Leo's Line-Up and Tires, which remained as a family business for several decades.
Not surprisingly, as a county commissioner, Bowman took a strong interest in transportation issues, and has been Benton County's designee to lobby in Olympia and Washington, D.C., on matters involving roads, rail and transportation.
In his off time, Bowman reads to the blind on Sunday mornings at Washington State University Tri-Cities, and has volunteered in recent years at the Columbia River Cowboy Gathering & Music Festival.
He also turned to woodworking as a hobby, which has led to making items to be sold at fundraisers for the Sexual Assault Response Center and Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery.
Bowman also has been a pancake turner for nine years to help raise money for the crisis nursery.
As a grandfather and great-grandfather, Bowman said he'll enjoy seeing all the children along the parade route.
Bowman will be riding by himself, but he was supposed to share the honor with Jim Bateman who was selected Volunteer of the Year for the fair.
Bateman, 65, who died July 24 from complications of renal cancer, was chosen for the honor for his tireless efforts and years in helping organize the parade. His family members will accept the recognition for Bateman at a special ceremony at the fairgrounds.
The award is the first to recognize a volunteer. A tree will be planted at the fairgrounds in his honor, and his family will receive a special belt buckle.
Bateman, a Pasco native who became a senior quality engineer at URS and Bechtel, got hooked on parades four years after graduating from Kennewick High School in 1966.
He rarely missed a parade and was an enthusiastic builder of floats, which he hauled to parades all over the West.
After spending three decades volunteering in every parade he could find, Bateman eventually took over as the fair parade organizer in 2007.
Fair Manager Lori Lancaster said volunteers seldom receive the recognition they deserve, and "Jim Bateman was the obvious choice."