Christmas parades delight midstate audiences

The Sun NewsDecember 11, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Popular NBC weatherman Al Roker didn’t make it as planned to serve as grand marshal of the Warner Robins Christmas Parade on Saturday, but his wife Deborah Roberts did, and that might have been more important to a lot of people.

Roberts is an ABC reporter and a Perry native. Her mother still lives in Perry, and Roberts visits her often.

“This is kind of a regular thing coming back to Georgia but never this special,” she said after the parade. “I saw friends along the route which is great ... old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, so it’s like a high school reunion.”

She said Roker couldn’t make it due to “a little bit of a family conflict.”

Overcast skies threatened rain, but the weather held for the 140 entries in the parade.

Carl Briggs said he has attended the parade just about every year since he moved to Warner Robins 21 years ago.

“It’s an opportunity to see the folks in a different light in the city,” he said. “Everybody seems to be in the spirit of the holiday, and I think this is what kicks it off. Black Friday doesn’t do it. This is what does.”

About an hour after the parade ended, Byron’s Christmas parade began. Held on a two-lane street through downtown, it was a more intimate affair. A tradition there is that most of the participants toss candy to children along the route, so much so that many of the kids bring bags to collect the loot.

Bridgitte Forward was there with her two sons, Straight and Press. They didn’t have bags, but their pockets were bulging with candy. They just moved to Perry two years ago and have been to the parade both years.

“I enjoy it,” she said. “It’s hometown people, and you get to see everybody you don’t see throughout the year.”

Perry and Fort Valley also had parades during the day. Centerville capped off the night with an evening Christmas parade.

In four years, Centerville’s parade has more than doubled in size and delighted children and adults with its lighted floats, cars and other features.

City Clerk Krista Bedingfield, who coordinates parade efforts along with Capt. Roger Hayes of the police department, said in the event’s first year there were 21 floats/units.

She said this year there were more than 50.

“It’s really a combined effort of all the participants in the parade and all the city’s departments who work together to put it on,” she said. “For instance, the police department takes care of crowds and safety, the utility department gets streets blocked off, and the fire department gets everybody lined up right. We enjoy doing it and having everybody come out and have fun. Centerville is a great place to live and work, and we’re glad people from all over Middle Georgia come have a good time with us.”

Fire Chief Jason Jones said it was his department’s first year taking over the duties of getting floats and other parade units lined up and rolling out on time. He said last year the department helped police organize floats but won full responsibility for the job this year.

Grand marshals for the 2013 parade were three past Centerville mayors: Mary Ann Weigand, Ronnie Brand and Walker Fowler Jr.

The theme was Hometown U.S.A.

Bedingfield said the Centerville parade is unique in that it doesn’t charge participants to be in it. Instead those in the parade are encouraged to bring donations for the Georgia State Patrol’s Toys for Tots Christmas drive.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725. Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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