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Ripley celebrates America

Annual Independence Day festivities draw a big crowd

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams waves to the crowd during the Independence Day parade in Ripley Saturday. Williams served as grand marshal. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

RIPLEY — Some attending Ripley’s Fourth of July festivities over the weekend were keeping up an annual tradition. Others were experiencing “America’s largest small-town Independence Day celebration” for the first time.

“My entire life we’ve been coming to the Fourth of July,” Ripley resident Grace Arthur said Saturday. “It’s my favorite holiday. Ripley does it better than any other place in the world.”

Arthur’s 15-month-old daughter Aurora was there for the first time, decked out in red, white and blue. She found something to keep her interest while waiting for the parade to start — a miniature pinscher named Zoey, held on a leash by Ripley native April Johnson, a Ripley native who now lives in Florida and was in town for a family wedding.

“We decided to stay for the Fourth because I haven’t been back in a while,” said Johnson, visiting from Florida for a family wedding with her husband, Mike, who was getting his first taste of Independence Day in her hometown.“Ripley’s the most patriotic town I’ve ever seen.”

That feeling was apparent to Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living U.S. Marine to earn the Medal of Honor in World War II and the parade’s grand marshal.

Ripley High School student Makenzie Grandon, second from right, sings “God Bless America” during the opening ceremony for Ripley’s Independence Day festivities Saturday flanked by, from left, parade grand marshal and Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, Epworth United Methodist Church pastor the Rev. Ford Price and Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“When I feel and see the spirit in this city today, it increases my faith, it restores my belief, that we are the greatest country … and we love freedom more than any people on Earth,” he said during the opening ceremony Saturday morning.

Williams, a West Virginia resident, discussed the concept of Gold Star families, those who have lost a relative in military service.

The nonprofit Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation Inc. works to establish memorials honoring those families, with 86 dedicated around the country and 74 in progress.

“We should never, ever forget those sacrifices,” he said.

The city’s committee that organizes the celebration recognized individuals for their service to the community, including bestowing the John and Amy McGinley Leadership Award, named for longtime organizers of the event, on the staff of the Jackson County Health Department.

Wendy Staats, left, is presented with the John and Amy McGinley Leadership Award on behalf of the Jackson County Health Department by previous winner Suzette Lowe, center, and John McGinley during the opening ceremonies for Ripley’s Independence Day events Saturday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader said Health Department personnel were visible, vocal and informative while working to keep the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They were here to help. They weren’t here to criticize,” Rader said.

Wendy Staats, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Health Department, accepted the award.

“It’s been a long trying year, but … we have an awesome community, and it’s great to be able to get them back together,” Staats said.

The pandemic resulted in a scaled-down parade in 2020, but there were nearly 200 units participating Saturday.

Fifteen-month-old Aurora Arthur, of Ripley, smiles at Zoey, the pet of Ripley native April Johnson, left, and her husband Mike as they wait for the city’s annual Independence Day parade to begin Saturday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“We’ve missed our friends — and their grandchildren. They’re two years older,” said Marty Spiker of Ripley.

She was sitting along the parade route with family, including her granddaughter Grace Spiker, visiting from Virginia.

“Seeing the people out and enjoying America … that’s the most exciting thing,” said Spiker’s husband, Mike.

The day began with a pancake breakfast at Calvary United Methodist Church and continued with the annual Firecracker Two-Mile Race and musical performances before culminating in fireworks Saturday night.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot Carson Glover elicits cheers from the crowd on South Church Street Saturday during Ripley’s annual Independence Day parade. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Ripley residents Seth Phalen, left, and Seth Parsons run in the Firecracker Two-Mile Race Saturday in Ripley, wearing GORUCK backpacks and carrying the American flag. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Archer Freeland, 3, of Ripley, and his aunt, Alicia McVay, wave at members of the Nemesis Shrine Motorized Unit out of Parkersburg during the annual Independence Day parade in Ripley Saturday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Thousands of people lined the route of Ripley’s annual Fourth of July parade Saturday, helping the city maintain its claim as host of “America’s largest small-town Independence Day celebration.” (Photo by Evan Bevins)

The Ripley High School marching band was among the nearly 200 units in Saturday’s Independence Day parade through Ripley. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Members of the Nemesis Shrine Motorized Unit from Parkersburg turn onto Main Street Saturday during Ripley’s Independence Day parade. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

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