LITTLE HOCKING - The Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Department was formed 51 years ago, and its annual ice cream social soon followed.
Charter department member John Smith has been there since the beginning of both.
"I haven't missed one yet," Smith said just prior to the parade that kicked off Friday's social. "When this thing started out, we had two five-gallon, hand-crank ice cream freezers."
Little Miss Barlow Fair Alexa Wilson throws candy to spectators. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
Randall Elder rings a bell from the original Porterfield Baptist Church on the church float as the Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Department Ice Cream Social parade makes its way up Federal Road on Friday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
From left, Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Department firefighter/EMT Scott Casto, EMT Shawna Alloway and firefighter Matt Alloway serve ice cream Friday during the department’s annual ice cream social at Little Hocking Elementary School. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
On Friday, the department had about 400 gallons of ice cream ready to serve to the hundreds of people who turned out for the event at Little Hocking Elementary School. It's long been a key fundraiser for the department, but over the last 15 years or so it's evolved into something more, Chief Mike Chevalier said.
"It's a good opportunity for the people to come back to the area and visit family," he said. "It's kind of like a homecoming."
The chance to visit with folks is one of the main draws for people like Little Hocking resident Robin May.
"The whole experience is fun," she said. "And I see a lot of people I went to school with, graduated with. You just never know who you're going to see."
The food is another attraction. Some people who were out of town Friday asked friends to snag them a few chicken dinners to save in the freezer for later.
In addition to live music provided by local bands and a country store, the festivities also included a scheduled landing by a MedFlight helicopter and a visit from the Washington County Sheriff's Office's drug dog.
Food and fellowship bring Little Hocking residents Wilbur and Fay Marks back to the social year after year. The couple have only missed a handful - or maybe just one, they couldn't quite agree - of socials since Wilbur was hired as principal at the elementary school in 1972.
"Tradition," Wilbur Marks said. "You can't miss the Little Hocking parade and ice cream and hot dog social."
Meanwhile, Friday was 1-month-old Lily Atkinson's first ice cream social. Mother Allison Atkinson, of Belpre, said she knows several members of the Little Hocking fire department and enjoys the event.
"I have a lot of fun at it," she said.
For Smith's wife Emily, attending and helping with the social is a way to show pride in the department.
"It's a really good department," she said. "We've got a lot of young guys; we're not short on people."
The parade had dozens of units - fire trucks from Little Hocking and Belpre, local festival royalty, Boy and Girl Scout troops, politicians and businesses. Many threw candy, which eager young parade-goers snatched up.
Belpre resident Alexa Wilson, 7, said she preferred throwing candy from a vehicle as Little Miss Barlow Fair over trying to catch it on the sidelines.
"It's more fun," she said.
Her mother, Bobbi Wilson, said the girl was very specific about the mix of candy she wanted to toss and eager to get started.
"She's waiting all day long. 'Can I just practice throwing?'" Bobbi Wilson said.