Meet your marshals

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 29, 2023


Every year, the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade picks three people to lead the event.

For the 155th year, a long-time parade volunteer, a man who has attended the parade for 75 years and a veteran and retired firefighter will fill the top spots.

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Joe Sharp, Grand Marshal

For more than 50 years, the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade has been a major part of Joe Sharp’s life, and, this year, he will be serving in its most prestigious role.

Sharp will be on duty as the grand marshal of this year’s event.

“It feels nice,” he said, on being chosen for the leadership spot.

A lifelong resident of Ironton and a 1965 graduate of Ironton High School, he has helped out in every capacity with the event for decades and served as its parade commander last year.

Sharp, who has been on the parade’s committee for 30 years, has helped with traffic, managing the divisions, and things such as pre-parade events at Woodland Cemetery.

“We’re getting ready to put flags on the bridge there,” he said of the work he was doing this year.

In addition to the parade committee, he is also a member of the Loyal Order of the Moose for 30 years and was a member of the Ironton Eagles.

His niece, Mary Sharp, said the parade has long had a strong meaning for their family and Sharp’s brothers, George, Jim and John, as well as his sisters, Ruth and Mary, have taken part in its work, following the example of their father, George P. Sharp.

“It is very important to us because of the military, the freedom and everything it represents,” Mary said.

Lou Pyles, of the parade committee, said Sharp is a reliable supporter of the event.

“It doesn’t matter what you need, he’s right there,” she said.

Pyles said Sharp has been a part of the parade committee for more than 30 years and has always been willing to go the extra mile to make sure the event succeeds each year.

“He’s a nice little guy and has always helps us do anything we asked him to do,” she said, stating the honor this year for him is well deserved. “He’s always helping somebody and always comes to the meetings.”

She said he’s always available in the staging area, helping the Scout troops get banners to the gathering points, as well as handing out programs at Navy Night and showing up early at the annual ceremony at Woodland Cemetery.

“And it’s very helpful of him to do that,” Pyles said. 

Ron Thomas, Parade Commander

For Ron Thomas, this year’s parade is a special one.

In addition to being named its parade commander, he says it is also 75 years since his first experience with it.

“My career with the parade started in 1948,” he said. “I was in the first grade.”

Thomas recalls the costume he wore, as part of his school’s entry in the event.

“I was Daniel Boone,” he said. “I wore a coonskin cap and had a single shot, 22 rifle.”

Thomas said his involvement continued during his education, having marched in it four times with the band from Rock Hill High School, from which he graduated in 1960.

Thomas has been involved with his community throughout the decades, having served on Ironton’s city council, where he said he made the push to switch from a city manager to a mayoral form of government.

“That’s more successful than other forms of government,” he said of the change, which is still in place.

He has a long history of affiliation with Ohio University Southern, where he got his education and helped organize its student government.

It was through his work with the school that he was able to make another big contribution to the parade in 1991, when he approached that year’s Miss Ohio, Rene Autherson, who was attending the Athens OU campus, and asked her to participate in the parade.

Thomas said in addition to booking her for the parade, he was responsible for getting her and a chaperone to the school, where a reception was hosted for them.

He said he is particularly proud of his time at OUS and the work he did there.

“It was a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said.

He also worked with Community Action Organization, where he was instrumental in projects, such as improving education and getting lights for the ball fields in Ironton.

“I was there for 24 years,” he said. “We extended funds into the city for various programs.”

Thomas speaks often of his late wife, Viola, who he said he misses greatly.

“She was a wonderful person,” he said. “She was always my backup.”

He says his involvement in his community is what motivates him.

“I try to see what’s needed and how to make it happen,” he said. “And I’m trying to continue where I can.”

He said he has been consistently involved with the parade since 2009, serving on its committee, as well as a division commander in multiple years.

Like many in the city, he says taking part in the parade is something that comes naturally.

“It’s just something you do, being involved,” he said. “It’s like eating lunch.”

He said it is important for the city and county to keep the parade going each year, maintaining its title as the longest running Memorial Day parade in the country.

“And we did that in 2020,” he said of the years there were closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders. That year, organizers had an abbreviated event, closed to spectators, but livestreamed to online viewers.

“We had a short parade, but we did it.”

Thomas said the key to the event’s success is its volunteers and he would like to see more get involved.

“We need more people interested in it,” he said. “And more participants.”

He said the event is important to honor those who have served in the military, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We need to honor the folks who put their lives on the line,” he said. “It’s a reward only some get. Many did not get to come back home.”

In addition to participants, Thomas said the public and the atmosphere created each year are what make it work.

“There’s more to the parade than just going down the street,” he said. “The crowds are a part of it, too, and make it a success.”

Louie Sheridan, Honorary Grand Marshal

The honorary grand marshal of the 155th Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade is Louie Sheridan, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired firefighter.

Sheridan joined the Navy two weeks after graduating from Ironton High School in 1990.

He served on the USS Shenandoah, a Yellowstone-class destroyer tender was part of a carrier battle group, during the first Persian Gulf War. 

He did office work, but was also assigned to a fire company because “in the service, it’s an all-hands-on-deck type of situation. There’s no place to go when there is a fire, so everyone learns how to do it.”

He learned to work the fire suppression systems on the boat and helped put out small fires. 

After leaving the Navy, he wanted a job that let him to continue to serve and use the firefighting skills he had learned during his military stint. He joined the Ironton Fire Department in 1997 and found it to be a perfect fit. He retired from the IFD in 2022 after 25 years. He is a life member and  past commander of VFW 8850 and is on the post’s Honor Guard.

“I am very humbled by the honor be the honorary grand marshal for such a prestigious event and something I have grown up watching,” Sheridan said.

He the only times he didn’t attend the parade was when he was in the Navy. 

He said it was amazing be able to go to the meetings and be behind the scenes and see the work that is put into it. 

“It has enlightened me how much work they actually do to put this grand event on,” Sheridan said. “For them to think of me, and to want me to be a part of it, it is probably one of the best awards I have ever had bestowed upon me.”