RIPLEY – Some attendees at Ripley’s 4th of July festivities this weekend have maintained an annual tradition. Others were experiencing “The Biggest Small Town Independence Day Celebration in America” for the first time.
“All my life, we have come to July 4th”, Ripley resident Grace Arthur said on Saturday. “This is my favorite vacation. Ripley does it better than any other place in the world.
Arthur’s 15-month-old daughter Aurora was there for the first time, decked out in red, white and blue. She found something to keep her interest in while the parade started – a miniature pinscher named Zoey, held on a leash by Ripley native April Johnson, a Ripley native who now lives in Florida and was in town for a family wedding .
“We decided to stay for the fourth because I haven’t been back for a while. “ said Johnson, who has come from Florida for a family wedding to her husband, Mike, who got his first glimpse of Independence Day in his hometown.“Ripley is the most patriotic town I have ever seen.”
This feeling was evident to Hershel “Wooded” Williams, the last surviving U.S. Navy to receive the WWII Medal of Honor and Grand Marshal of the Parade.
“When I feel and see the spirit of this city today, it increases my faith, it restores my belief that we are the greatest country … and we love freedom more than any other people on Earth”, he said during the opening ceremony on Saturday morning.
Williams, a West Virginia resident, discussed the concept of Gold Star families, those who have lost a relative during military service.
The nonprofit Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation Inc. strives to establish memorials in honor of these families, 86 dedicated across the country and 74 ongoing.
“We should never, ever forget these sacrifices” he said.
The town committee organizing the celebration recognized the individuals for their service to the community, including awarding the John and Amy McGinley Leadership Award, named after the event’s longtime organizers, to staff in the Department of Jackson County Health.
Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader said Department of Health staff were visible, vocal and informative while working to keep the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They were there to help. They weren’t there to criticize. Rader said.
Wendy Staats, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Department of Health, accepted the award.
“It’s been a long, trying year, but… we have a great community and it’s great to be able to bring them together again” Staats said.
The pandemic resulted in a reduced parade in 2020, but nearly 200 units participated on Saturday.
“We missed our friends and their grandchildren. They are two years older. Ripley’s Marty Spiker said.
She was sitting along the parade route with her family, including her granddaughter Grace Spiker, who came from Virginia.
“Seeing people and enjoying America … that’s the most exciting thing”, said Spiker’s husband Mike.
The day started with a pancake breakfast at Calvary United Methodist Church and continued with the annual Firecracker Two-Mile race and musical performances before ending with fireworks on Saturday night.
Evan Bevins can be contacted at [email protected]