Big day approaches

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2003

It just may rain on our parade, but it is unlikely the drizzle will dampen anyone's enthusiasm.

Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade committee members said even in years when the clouds rolled in, crowds have still turned out in masses to watch the procession.

"Even in years when it rains, people still come out," parade grand marshal Marsha Kerns said.

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National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Mazza said light rain will begin falling this evening and should taper off by midday Monday.

"If you put that parade off until 11 o'clock you should be OK," Mazza said laughing.

It is estimated that at least 30,000 will watch the parade; another 2,000 will actually take part in it. The lineup includes more than 10 veterans organizations,

a dozen military organizations, eight bands and 15 area businesses. The parade this year has brought participants from as far away as Poquetanuck, Conn., and Georgetown, Ky., and an audience from all over the country.

Where and when

Entrants are asked to meet at division lineup locations by 8:30 a.m. Entries with floats to be judged are requested to line up by 8:15 a.m. on Railroad Street between Second and Fourth streets, facing the hill. Float judging will begin at 9 a.m.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Center and Sixth streets. From there, the parade will continue on Center Street to Third Street. Taking a left on Third Street, the procession will continue until it makes a left turn on Quincy Street. Another left turn from Quincy to Sixth streets brings the parade participants back to the starting point.

The procession brings automobile traffic to a virtual standstill for more than three hours while the county pays tribute to the nation's service men and women.

"I'm looking forward to it," Kerns said. "I'm looking forward to seeing the people and seeing their show of support for the veterans. I didn't realize how enthusiastic people were until last year when I walked at the head of the parade (as parade commander) in the first division."

Months of planning

For those who attend the parade, the procession looks like a seamless stream of happy smiling faces assembled in perfect order. For the 38 members of the parade committee, that look of effortless perfection is actually the result of months of hard work. The committee meets monthly from September until April. Starting in April, meetings increase to twice a month and then to weekly gatherings, always on Monday evening at 7 p.m. at the VFW Post 8850 on South Third Street.

"On the committee are people from all walks of life," Kerns said. "We have business people and teachers, people in government, retired people, and everyone works together."

A few new changes will make the parade more user friendly as well as audience friendly. The entire parade route will be decorated this year. The parade committee purchased 52 new U.S. flags to adorn parts of the parade route outside of the central business district.

Kerns said complaints last year about restroom facilities have been answered with additional portable restrooms that will be put in strategic locations near the area where the parade participants line up.

Our proudest moment

This year several new groups will take part in the parade. One group is the Gold Wing Road Riders Association of Winchester, Ky. Members Jane Ellen and Tim Mourning are Ironton natives. They moved to central Kentucky several years ago, but they have never forgotten their southern Ohio roots or the parade that serves as a yearly reminder of the county's rich military heritage. When they come for the parade this weekend, they will bring as many as 30 other group members with them.

"We've just gotten involved in the GWRRA, and this is a group that like to take part in parades and to show support for our troops," Mourning said. "I'm extremely proud of the parade. It's a big part of our history there. We're proud that this is the oldest continuing Memorial Day parade in the nation. Our kids even brag about this fact. When the GWRRA members said they wanted to be in a parade, we said we wanted them to come to Ironton. We said to them 'you want to be in a parade, well, we'll show you a parade!'"