By Jimmy Patterson
KERMIT — The founding fathers of this small town can thank Teddy Roosevelt’s son for their original namesake. Its present-day residents can thank Jim Henson for putting it on the map.
Kermit has never been like it was Friday when it welcomed the world’s most famous amphibian and his entourage. The frog was treated like a prince by the 5,700 townspeople, who rolled out the green carpet in high-hoppin’ fashion for His Greenness.
As one harried school teacher said as she bustled to help oversee over 500 school children who were dismissed early for the downtown festivities, “Everything’s frog.”
“These are salt of the earth people,” Kermit said in a post-celebration interview. “Where else could you come and have people treat you so well?”
Kermit, mysteriously traveling sans Miss Piggy, said it was helpful to be in a town that also bore his name. “Makes it easy to remember,” he said as he set out on a 50-city tour celebrating his 50th birthday.
The frog’s first leap landed him in Kermit, a town that couldn’t seem to do enough for the lovable Muppet. An artist’s rendering of Kermit’s head was unveiled atop the city’s water tower; a park was named after him, a street, too. Even pylons blocking off downtown were, you guessed it, green. Kermit was master of ceremonies at the Kermit High School homecoming parade and he was also to be crowned homecoming king at Friday’s night’s football game.
Kermit was even read a lengthy proclamation by mayor Ted Westmoreland, designating Friday as Kermit the Frog Day.
“Boy,” Kermit said at the completion of the reading, “that’s an awfully long proclamation for such a little frog.”
Kermit, Texas, was chosen by Disney officials, parent corporation of Kermit’s creators, The Jim Henson Company, over Kermit, Va., a tiny village with only 200 people.
“We’re just happy to have that golden name,” said Westmoreland, in his 13th year as Kermit mayor. “Something like this will make us known to the rest of the country.
As only the best of mayors would, Westmoreland used the opportunity to pitch the benefits of living in Kermit, and he hopes an event like Friday’s would become an annual event, further casting a postive green sheen on his town.
“Kermit’s a nice town with a wonderful climate,” Westmoreland said. “We hope to make ourselves attractive to retirees and small business.” We hope to make ourselves attrective to retirees and small business.”
Kermit Celebration Days was the culmination of almost three months of hard and orchestrated volunteer efforts. Work started even before Disney made it official that their famous frog would be there.
“This will put us on the map,” said Kermit Police Chief Ron Hoge, who was tasked with security and coordination of an inter-departmental police presence that included officers from Monahans, Odessa and Ward County. Disney had anticiptaed a crowd of as many 30,000 visitors, but by mid-day it was apparent that the number may be a bit smaller.
Even though the crowd didn’t appear to be what was expected, the mood was festive and for many, a day so big had never been seen, and may never again come around, a distinction that for Kermit’s publicist, Danielle Clark, was daunting.
“Wow … more than anything, to be a part of something like is an honor,” said Clark, who prior to representing Kermit was a publicist who worked with Halle Berry and Hillary Duff. She said despite having worked for those two megastars, she had never seen such celebration around a star as she had Friday in Kermit.
When the Green One’s duties are complete in Kermit, he’ll next be honored at the NASA Space Center, south of Houston. Kermit’s Birthday tour, which will take him around the globe, will conclude in 15 months. Steve Whitmire, the creative voice and talent behind the Kermit, will be along for the entire ride. Whitmire became the breath and life of Kermit after Jim Henson’s death in 1990.