TRAVERSE CITY — It's a long way from a wooden tub to the space shuttle.
The Muha family of Traverse City has the National Cherry Festival to thank for bridging a generation — and technology — gap.
As Joe Muha, 7, experiences life as a National Cherry Festival prince, his father Todd barely remembers his own royal experience 40 years ago.
One thing he is sure of: floats have come a long way since 1972.
Todd's float had nothing on the Florida-themed creation for Eastern Elementary School this year. Designed and built by the Muhas and the family of the school's princess, Isabella Covert, the 2012 entry features a space shuttle that simulates ignition and liftoff.
"I like our float, it smokes!" said Joe, of a design that includes a pulley and dry ice for special effects.
Four decades ago, Todd Muha and Oak Park Elementary School's princess, Laura Halberg, reigned over a Three Men and a Tub float. That creation featured students sporting headgear that made them into whitecaps amidst a shimmering field of blue.
Another change: in Todd's era, politicking paid off. Then, choosing each school's prince and princess was more a popularity contest. In the modern era, the policy is a random drawing.
"We were taken around to the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms," he said. Those older students did the voting.
No matter the decade, a stint as prince or princess means a week packed with activities, parades and fun.
"I did enjoy it and I'm enjoying it all over again," said Todd Muha, a financial advisor.
Trevor Tkach, executive director of the National Cherry Festival, served his own time as prince. The Traverse City native reigned as one of two Oak Park Elementary School royalty in 1985.
His fondest memory was riding in the parades, perched on a convertible. He enjoyed the cruise through downtown streets lined with cheering, waving spectators.
"I remember our float was a golden blimp," Tkach said. "We were so proud of that float and happy to show it off to thousands of onlookers."
The 86th National Cherry Festival this year features 23 schools that each bring a float to the Junior Royale and Cherry Royale parades. During festival week, the young royals also participate in events including the opening pancake breakfast, a cherry pie eating contest and an intergenerational picnic.
The festival does not track "legacy" selections for the princes and princesses, said event director Shelley Enger.
"It is special," Enger said of family participation across generations. "I think that's something I should keep track of."
Enger has firsthand knowledge of multi-generational commitment to the National Cherry Festival: she and her mother, Mary Lyon, together have volunteered for 100 years this year. Her mom is logging her 60th year in 2012; among many roles, she served as prince and princess director until retiring in 2002.
Enger completed an application, resume and interview for that position and was thrilled to land it. She has headed the program ever since.
"I can remember making the crowns out of corrugated cardboard and gluing plastic cherries on them," Enger said of helping her mom years ago.
"It's a legacy I'm very proud of," she added of her Cherry Festival service, inspired by her mom.
TRAVERSE CITY — It's a long way from a wooden tub to the space shuttle.
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