Tony spent part of his Indepedence Day in Ripley as part of "America's best small town July 4th Celebration". His recap is a tribute to this special West Virginia town.
Ripley Does It Again, Believe It!
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They have been parading to celebrate America’s Independence since the late 1800s in Ripley WV. To be more precise, they have been at it since the Days of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders according to Ripley historian Paul Poling and Mike Ruben of Jackson Herald renown.
It’s no wonder then that Ripley has earned the distinction of hosting “America’s premier small town July 4th celebration”. The sign as you drive into town says so. Just ask President George Bush who spent his Fourth of July in 2002 enjoying the patriotic camaraderie that this Central WV town has to offer.
That same sign also proudly asserts Ripley High’s domination of WV state baseball from 1997 thru 2004. You see civic pride runs rampant in this quaint West Virginia town.
This past Saturday, I made the trip up I-77 to enjoy the color and pageantry of this unique piece of Americana.
The town was decked out in its patriotic best with red, white and blue bunting draping nearly every house and business.
At Memorial Stadium, I took a walk across the turfed gridiron and could almost hear the marching Viking band as I scored a mythical TD. Turned out the R.H. Band was in fact practicing their Yankee Doodle tunes as they lined up outside the stadium while I played like a 10 year old on the turf.
Claudette “Toad” Harmon greeted me as I made my way thru the parking lot where floats and fire engines were gathering. “I am playing Uncle Sam”, Toad told me!
As I like to do when I go parading, I weaved my way in and out of the lineup meeting people. Pam Bailey’s School of Dance float seemed a natural place to hang out. Pam has been at it for 43 years and her rolls include 150 talented jazz, ballet and tap dancers. “We aim to be more than just a dance school”. Pam told me. “We try to instill lessons for life on our students. Hard work responsibility and team work are our hallmarks”, Pam added. Joy Shouldis went one step farther when she said “Pam teaches with loving kindness”. Lindsey Acree told me “Pam is like a second mom”.
I will include a neat picture of the girls and Pam’s float after dinner.
As I took my spot on Walters street, Richard Thompson, the distinguished WV Speaker of the House, was right behind me. We chatted on the Mountain State’s future and on the recovery of flood ravaged Wyoming, Logan and Mingo Counties. “Folks have bonded together in the Coalfields”, Rick from Wayne County, told me.
Coincidentally, in just a few minutes, I would be crossing the Mill Creek bridge thru town. It is here that a serious flash flood had inundated this part of WV in June of 1998. I recall our efforts to bag some bucks for relief that year just as we did here this year in May for Southern West Virginians.
The tradition on Walters Street is for a day long tailgate party. Dorothy Weekly of Ravenswood is 92 years old with the mind and heart of a kid. “I come to see the bands and the horses”, she told me.
Across the street, Kenny Fisher was holding grand daughter Macy Grace when I asked him what was so special about this day. Kenny teared up as he told me of his sons, one in the Marines, another a soon to be Marine. “July 4th is the best holiday other than the birth of Christ. My son Seth is in Marines. That’s what keeps this a country great”. Son Ezra is looking to follow in older brother Seth’s footsteps.
As the parade began the Grand Marshalls were the 2009 Ripley High Ladies softball champions! The crowd went ballistic as the girls walked past.
Then out of the wild blue yonder the Charleston 130th Airlift Wing sailed overhead to the delight of the thousands who jammed downtown. The motto of West Virginia, Montani Semper Liberi, came to my mind as the planes soared. The symbolism was palpable; namely, we are free from foreign invaders thanks to our Armed Forces!
I could tell how close knit this community is when a helmeted officer rode his bike past me. “Thanks for coming Tony”, Dr. Humphries told me. That right, the good doctor was making his rounds to make sure all felt well on this sun splashed Yankee Doodle Day.
The parade methodically worked its way toward I-77 for about 2 miles. Along the way folks lined the route at times 4 and 5 deep. I gave out a handful of umbrellas and said hi to as many WSAZ fans as I could.
The welcome was nothing short of amazing and if I can paraphrase a famous American, “I will return”.
Ripley, you did indeed do it again! Believe it!