By C.V. Moore
It almost didn’t happen, but thanks to the volunteer efforts of a civic group, Fayetteville’s Fourth of July tradition marched on this year.
The day kicked off with a parade down Maple Avenue, coordinated by the Fayetteville Lion’s Club, which stepped in to sponsor the event this year, to the relief of many.
Among festive floats and roaring fire engines, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., gladhanded the hundreds who came out to line the streets, wrestle for candy, and salute the flag.
The Register-Herald caught up with Manchin after the parade at Wild Flour Bakery, where he snacked on egg salad.
Manchin has spent his fair share of July 4’s out and about in small-town West Virginia and says he’s been to all of the festivals at one time or another.
“I’m here to say thank you to the people who make the effort and take the time to celebrate the Fourth and what it means,” he said. “We’ve lost that tradition a little bit.”
Statewide, the number of full-blown, weekend-long Fourth of Julys has dwindled to about 10 at this point, according to Manchin.
"It’s a celebration and a thank you and a time for families to get together,” he said.
After his stop in Fayetteville, he said he would be spending the rest of the day “like everybody else,” in the company of family in White Sulphur Springs.
Fayetteville’s festival looked a little different this year, after it almost went the way of other downsizing towns.
In February, the Lion’s Club stepped up as lead organizer for the event, after the Town of Fayetteville decided to get out of the fairs and festivals business, in part because of the strain it put on town employees’ time and resources.
By then, a car show and the carnival that used to set up in Town Park were booked. So this year, the festivities were scaled back and centered on the courthouse. Fireworks were still launched from their traditional spot at the park.
“We felt it was best to make it a one-day event and next year we could strive to make it a little longer,” says Dennis Hanson, who chaired the six-member Lion’s Club committee that organized the event.
“It’s been a lot of work, starting from scratch,” he says.
Lion’s Club President Steve Tyra says the club has not discussed whether they will continue to sponsor the festival next year and beyond.
“Right now we’re focused on today,” he says. “The good thing is we’ve created a handbook now for people who want to do it in the future.”
At least one familiar sight on Thursday was the lemon-mobile, a giant portable lemonade stand shaped like the refreshing fruit, which has cooled off Fourth of July revelers for six years now.
The stand is operated by the Clemens family. Lora Clemens, along with her sister and niece, squeezed fresh lemonade for festival-goers all afternoon. They also make regular showings at the Ansted Heritage Festival, Bridge Day, and the Oak Leaf Festival.
The faithful volunteers at WQAZ were on hand to bring the event live to Fayette County TV viewers and radio listeners.
An experienced speaker and emcee, Tyra provided an animated voiceover for the parade as it wound through the center of town.
“You’re live!” Tyra shouted to Manchin as he walked by.
“I’m glad to be alive!” the senator responded. “Happy Fourth to the great city of Fayetteville!”
Next came a vehicle with Fayette County’s Citizens of the Year, including two local female business owners, Wendy Bayes and Susan Jones.
The American Legion, Fayette Awning & Glass, Fayette County National Bank, and the Lion’s Club were among the other organizations that sponsored floats and decorated wheeled vehicles, along with a fleet of emergency vehicles from the surrounding area.
Little girls on decked-out bicycles also pedaled down Maple Avenue, streamers flying.
“You’ll never see that in New York City, that’s for sure,” said Tyra as they passed.
For Megan Blackstone of Lancaster, Ohio, Fayetteville’s Fourth is a yearly tradition when she comes home to visit family. This year, she introduced a new family member to the ritual.
Her 1-year-old daughter, Sterling, experienced her first parade Thursday.
“She really enjoyed it,” said Blackstone. “She gave it a round of applause.”
The afternoon festivities carried on with a sack race, a frog-jumping contest, a watermelon seed-spitting contest, and other nods to classic Americana entertainment.
“This day is all about freedom, and it touched my heart. There’s nothing like a Fourth of July in Fayetteville to make you feel good to be an American,” said Kelvin Holliday, Fayette County clerk.
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