EAST MANATEE -- Thursday was bittersweet for the man who has delighted thousands as Horseshoe Cove's Santa Claus.
Dick Verzone announced that after 14 years, this will be his last year participating in the Horseshoe Cove Christmas Cart Parade, which he created.
"I'm retiring," Verzone said with a lump in his throat. "These are my last rides. You know we started this with a three-wheel tricycle. Now, look over there at all the people bringing all this joy."
Verzone choked up as he saw 45 carts, all blazing with lights, filing out of Pleasant Lakes Park, which was Thursday's parade destination.
As usual, there were remarkable achievements of ingenuity on display, perhaps the most remarkable being Gary and Jan Mast's giant Christmas Tree, which has 1,100 LED lights and seems to just float down the road with no human involvement.
The Masts have to get on the ground on their backs and shimmy under the branches to get into the cart, which is under the tree.
Verzone will join roughly 200 Cove residents for his last ride at 6 p.m. Saturday when the carts travel down State Road 70 to Windmill Manor and Westwinds mobile home parks.
The universe, as Santa and Verzone know, does have a balance, so as Verzone was talking about his retirement, he was also excited about two new residents to the parade.
Donald Sewill of Minnesota and Edna Wilder of Michigan went out on their first date Thursday in Sewill's golf cart, which he made into a Christmas fireplace using cardboard, wallpaper and LED lights making blue silk look like flames.
"I asked Edna if she would go with me Saturday, too," Sewill said, beaming. "She said yes. Those Michigan women don't waste time when they see something they like."
"Well, he appears to be a nice man," Wilder said, indicating that any man who could build a fireplace on a golf cart was OK in her book.
"Bring chairs and sit along Caruso Road Saturday night," Horseshoe Cove resident Ann Jerman suggests to the public. "We'll be leaving the Cove at 6 p.m. and will travel along Caruso to State Road 70. The children will be amazed at our twinkling, musical holiday parade. We will throw candy to the kids and doggie treats to the dogs."
One of Pleasant Lakes' pets, held by a cheering resident who was also trying to snap pictures, got a dog treat from the paraders Thursday.
"The people get a charge out of this," said Mary Burggren, who was riding in a cart with Dick Verzone's wife, Sheila. They were towing Gerry Burggren, who had a keyboard playing Christmas tunes, Liberace-style.
Manatee County residents and tourists are used to the parade but Horseshoe Cove's new manager, Carl Fives, was astounded upon seeing his first parades.
"It's incredible," Fives said. "It's like the Grand Canyon. No words can describe it and no words can do it justice."