Jul 04 2021
Evan Bevins | Parkersburg News and Sentinel
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.
“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.
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.
“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.