LAHOMA — What's in a name?
Mayor Theresa Sharp said hundreds of people found out when the town welcomed visitors to celebrate Lahoma and those who share its name.
The first LahomaPalooza, on July 20, featured pony rides, helicopter rides, a parade, fireworks, children's face painting and vendors along Main Street selling such items as handmade quilts and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
The idea came to event organizer and Florida resident Lahoma McMillion in 2008 when she and her husband drove through the town just west of Enid to see what it was all about.
“I had never seen my name on anything and suddenly here I was in this little town with the same name. I went into the convenience store and had lunch with locals. I fell in love with it. I spoke with the mayor and he said I was the first Lahoma to pass through and that if I ever came back he'd throw me a parade,” said McMillion, 38.
Five years later, McMillion, a special education teacher, wife and mother, touched base with the current mayor, Sharp. Together, the two spread the word that Lahoma would host its first public celebration since 1978.
“I put it in our towns' monthly newsletter; I posted signs at the gas station and post office. News spread by word-of-mouth and the townspeople got so excited,” Sharp said.
Lahoma resident Bruce Nixon made wooden Christmas ornaments for all the Lahomas.
McMillion created a Facebook page to invite people with the name Lahoma to LahomaPalooza. More than 130 Lahomas registered, and about 20 with that name made it to the first festival, which attracted about 700 people altogether.
“We had Lahomas come from California, Texas, New Mexico, New Hampshire and of course, Oklahoma, ages 30 to 99,” McMillion said. “They all had their own story. We were all different and yet all the same. We all felt a little odd growing up, not sure of what our name meant or where we belonged. Then we came here and suddenly we belonged somewhere.”
McMillion said the word has Native American origins and means “the people.” In her case the name is given to someone in every second generation. She inherited the name from her grandmother, and her son will name his daughter Lahoma.
According to town legend, a young American Indian girl named Lahoma was accidentally run over by a wagon wheel while traveling to designated Indian Territory. Feeling the need to acknowledge the girl, the townspeople buried her under a tree and named their town after her.
McMillion said she stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in Enid.
“It was amazing. It was all good — the food, the service the people. I've never seen the kind of hospitality I saw from the people in Lahoma,” she said.
Sharp said showing outsiders the kindness of her townspeople was one of her goals.
“It's not hard to do. This town is generally safe, the people are kind, everybody knows everybody,” she said. “My hope was that people of New Mexico, Texas, California, people from these places so far away, would see our town and take a little bit of Oklahoma back with them when they left.”
Sharp said she and Lahoma Police Chief Lloyd Cross organized the event together.
The town provided the Lahomas with free dinner and T-shirts.
Cross put on a fireworks show and the Lahomas were given paper lanterns to light and make a wish on.
Sharp said vendors were charged a small registration fee to encourage their attendance and help pay event expenses.
“I'm not sure if we broke even,” Sharp said. “But that's typical with these sorts of things in the first year, and it was worth it.”
Sharp thinks next year's event will be on a larger scale.
“We had two months to get the word out about this. But we are already planning for next year so I think it's going to be huge,” she said.
Next year's LahomaPalooza will be on July 19. To register or to learn more, email Sharp at email@example.com.