|Parade Grand Marshal|
Brenda Underdown has always kept her finger on the historic pulse of the community. This month, she stepped into the widely celebrated and often unforgettable role as grand marshal of the Marion Christmas Parade.
Underdown led the parade on Saturday, Dec. 3 through downtown Marion. It was the second straight year that the parade was held at night, a nostalgic piece of trivia that Underdown would certainly find interesting. More commonly throughout history, the parade has been a daytime event but recent evening affairs seem to have rejuvenated interest in the parade.
The community’s historian laureate, Underdown has published six books about local people, places and things in her “Forgotten Passages” series. She’s been a weekly columnist for The Crittenden Press since 2002 and also writes an online blog, both are also entitled “Forgotten Passages.”
Oh, and she also had a day job before retiring from the school district after after 31 years. She worked as a staff member at Tolu, Crittenden Elementary and the Central Office.
What makes Underdown such a treasure to the community is that she never lets anything be forgotten, said newspaper publisher Chris Evans.
“Brenda’s tireless work as a preservationist of local history has inexpressible value because she continues to breathe life into the spirit and personalities of the community’s forefathers and helps define the places and things within our community that are truly important to posterity.”
Underdown’s interest in history began many years ago when she started doing some genealogy work to help her daughter Tina with a school project.
“I really think I get my love for the county and history from my grandfather, E. Jeffery Travis,” Underdown said.
Travis was from the Bells Mines Community and often wrote for the newspaper. He was a two-term county judge and school superintendent.
Underdown grew up in Crayne and went to elementary school there. The first article she ever penned for the newspaper documented the razing of Bells Mines Church in her family’s ancestral territory and the re-opening of the Presbyterian Church in Crayne. The Crayne church had been badly damaged during a tornado.
In addition to the books written under her own name, Underdown has collaborated on a number of others, largely cemetery directories and other genealogy titles.
A fixture at the Crittenden County Public Library, Underdown conducts much of her research among the local archives, but she’s also a tremendous resources herself. Librarian Regina Merrick says Underdown is an walking index of information about Crittenden County.
“Brenda is a treasure to our community and to the Crittenden County Public Library. As a genealogist, she helps us with the many requests we receive from far-flung relatives of their Crittenden County ancestors,” Merrick said. “Very seldom can we stump Brenda. I know that we would not have the genealogy resources that we have were it not for Brenda and her devotion to the history of our county.”
Underdown has also served on the library’s board of trustees for 12 years.
“She is an encouragement and excellent sounding board for me both in library business and personally,” Merrick added. “I and my staff are very thankful for her.”
Underdown said her role as the community historian has been terrifically rewarding.
“I have met so many wonderful people that I didn’t even know,” she said.
Perhaps the most gratifying times are when people bring her interesting stories from their families and ask her to write about them.
“This has just become such a big part of my life,” she said.
Underdown urges young people to pay close attention to their elders now, so that they too can be aware of the history around them.
“Take time to talk to your grandparents. Don’t be sorry that you didn’t,” she said.