BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - In just days, Cruisin’ the Coast will be coming through the Gulf Coast for a week-long car parade.
But those who make the cruise smooth are the thousands of people who volunteer every year. Hundreds showed for Cruisin’s first official event: the Packing Party to prepare registration handouts.
And like all the other volunteers, Terry Ward doesn’t slow down. He’s been that way since he started volunteering for Cruisin’ in 1998.
“I like it,” Ward said simply. “I like the people, and I like the old cars.”
Ward is among the longest-serving volunteers and has been the Edgewater Mall site manager for more than a decade.
“It may come to that point at some time in the future that as I get older, I may start looking for people to take my place, you know,” he explained.
But the rewards from this line of work are numerous.
“I have friends now that live in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma that we’ve made through Cruisin’ the Coast,” Ward said. “And they come back every year, and actually, some of them have joined our club and come back to Cruisin’ just to work with us.”
Ward, who is President of the Mississippi Beach Cruisers, is among the nearly 1,200 volunteers who form the backbone of the event, and most represent the 11 car clubs on the Coast.
“They’re vital,” said volunteer John Devera. “They’re a lifeblood of the event. Without the volunteers, I don’t think the event could keep going.”
John Devera, who represents the Magnolia Classic Cruisers of Jackson County, is the Ocean Springs site manager and has been a volunteer for 12 years.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It makes me feel good that we’re helping the community. And I think it fares well for the state and the Coast for this event to go on, and that type of participation just makes you feel good inside.”
It’s one of those hard habits to break.
“I actually thought a couple of years ago about stepping out for a while, quitting the site manager job and turn it over to somebody else,” Devera added. “But the closer it came to the time for that to happen, I just decided I wasn't ready. And, so I’m still doing it.”
Another volunteer leader, Allen Strange, has worked since 2003 that includes a long tenure as the Hardy Court site manager.
“We’ve gone from just a few cars in the beginning to over 1,000 cars that we’ll have there,” he said.
Among his favorite memories include the sea of people waiting to receive packets on that first day at Cruise Central.
“I have people standing out there in front,” Strange said. “And these are not just one or two. These are hundreds. We’ll give out anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 hundred packets that first day.”
But as President of Antique Auto and Engine Club of Mississippi, there’s no doubt the focus of his attention.
“A lot of times, it’s some cars you only see in dreams, that you never see in any place else but pictures,” he said. “We’ve seen those unique vehicles... be it a truck, be it a bus, be it a car... for the first time.
“It’s like you have a bucket list and you want to see cars and vehicles. And there it is right there in front of you,” he explained.
Cruisin’ the Coast runs Oct. 6-13, and officials are hoping to beat last year’s total registration of 8,444.