Faith Fourth Parade celebrates land of freedom, opportunity

Published 12:16 am Sunday, July 5, 2015

By Mark Wineka

FAITH — In 1987 as a young mother, Mariana Petre came to the United States from Romania for a better life, and she says she found it. Now a U.S. citizen, Petre did something Saturday she tries to do every year — she attended the Faith Fourth of July Parade.

To Mariana, it’s an important celebration of freedom and unity and a reminder of the people who lost their lives fighting for the country’s principles.

“You have the opportunity to be anything you want to be here,”  Petre said.

Her daughter Tania noted that Mariana regularly returns to visit family and friends in Romania, all the while grateful she has made her life and home in the United States.

“I feel like people don’t know the opportunities they have here,” Tania Petre said. ‘They really do take it for granted.”

Mariana and Tania delighted in watching the red-white-and-blue parade go by and seeing Mariana’s granddaughter Samira, who attends Faith Elementary, fill her plastic bag with candy being thrown from the fire trucks. The Petre family moved to Rowan County in 1992, and Mariana has made it a tradition to attend the parade.

“It’s a small town, but the people here love each other,” Mariana said. “That’s what I like about America. They are nice people, friendly and ready to help.”

Tania added, “We just come out and show our support and show our respect. We’ve been here many times.”

This year’s Faith Fourth of July Parade held something for everybody, and as always the warmest applause — even standing ovations — came when military veterans passed by, often dressed in their uniforms.

The parade’s grand marshals were Jim Deal and Bob Kluttz, members of the the 737th Tank Battalion known as “Patton’s Spearheaders” in World War II. Both men were injured in their battalion’s roar through Europe in the days immediately after D-Day.

Now in their 90s, Deal and Kluttz said they enjoyed their mile-and-a-half ride through Faith perched in the back of a convertible.

“It’s different riding, sitting up there and watching the parade,” said Deal, who has attended many of these parades as a spectator. “I think we had a record crowd here today, but I don’t know.”

Parade organizers and law enforcement usually estimate the crowd  at 30,000, which translates to a population about the size of Salisbury descending on Faith each July Fourth.

Because of recent actions taken to remove Confederate flags from state and local grounds and, in North Carolina’s case, to stop producing vanity license plates with the Confederate flag on them, the parade presence of Confederate Civil War re-enactors and the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ usual float drew more attention this year than it might have prompted in the past.

But Steve Poteat of the Sons said reaction to the members, who trace their ancestry back to men who fought in the Civil War, was more than 99 percent positive.

People with the group passed out “I Support Confederate Heritage” stickers. A Confederate flag was the center image to the sticker.

Along the parade route, a few spectators also held Confederate flags, but U.S. flags and bunting probably outnumbered those 10,000 to one.

When Debra Grant, an African-American Air Force veteran, saw the big display of Confederate flags coming down the street with the Sons of Confederacy Veterans trailer, she turned her back to them.

“That’s not what our country is supposed to be about,” she said. “We’re supposed to be beyond that. … I’m proud of America, but I’m not proud of that part of our history.”

Besides veterans, the parade seemed to include every piece of fire and rescue equipment in Rowan County, down to the Rescue Squad’s air boat.

But there also were beauty queens, cheerleaders, hillbillies, Shriners with bagpipes and tiny cars, legislators, local officials, many Legionnaires, ball teams, clowns, cloggers, superheroes, church floats and vans, red-white-and blue Mardi Gras beads, multi-gun salutes, big trucks and farm equipment. And don’t forget the many zombies.

The East Rowan High School band also was a crowd favorite. Parade-goers actually appreciated the overcast day, which eased the summer temperature, but thousands still relied on the cardboard fans passed out up and down Main Street.

Folks use all manner of seats to watch the parade, including blankets, lawn chairs and the back of pickups. They sit under pop-up tents or on the porches and in the front yards of people along Main Street.

In those cases, it’s all about who you know.

Bryan and Christy Anderson moved to their brick house on Main Street three years ago.

“We have more friends than we’ve ever had before — and I like most of them,” Bryan said, earning some groans from the other adults in his driveway. All the children held positions on the sidewalk nearer the parade.

When it comes to parade-watching in Faith, Christy Anderson said, as if you didn’t know, “It is better having your own house.”

By the end of the July Fourth celebration, the Andersons usually are entertaining some 70 people who have stopped by to watch the town’s fireworks from their back yard.

People travel considerable distances for the Faith parade. Sitting under a shade tree in the front yard of Doug and Jayne Lingle’s 1938 house on Main Street were Sue Eagle Ashby, who lives in upstate New York, and Joy Beaver Fagan, who lives near Orlando, Fla.

Ashby, a 1955 graduate of Granite Quarry High School, was Miss Faith in 1955 and a school chum of Doug Lingle’s. She travels south on occasion to see her sister, Lillian Harvell, and it just happens to be a plus when it coincides with the Faith Fourth of July Parade.

Fagan was a member of the first four-year class to graduate from East Rowan High. When Fagan returns here to see family, she says it’s amazing how many people she can still recognize by matching their faces to those of their late parents she knew years ago.

This year’s parade was a bonus for Melissa Little of Kannapolis. “I’ve always had to work,” she said. “I was just looking forward to being off.”

Little brought 11-year-old Emma McLaughlin with her. “The last time she was here, she was this tall,” Melissa said, as they both held their hands close to the ground.

Sitting with Little were Joyce Whitten and Whitten’s daughters, Crystal Whitten and Melody Craver. Joyce figured her family, usually with more grandchildren in attendance, has been coming to the parade from Kannapolis for 20 some years.

“It just brings everyone together,” she said,

Christian Morris, 14, rated the 2015 edition of this parade better than 2014, mainly because the entrants stopped more often and didn’t go by so fast.

He has been in past parades twice, riding with law enforcement friends he knows. All in all, Morris said, “I’d rather be in the parade.”

After the parade, Lauren Thomas, representing Harold B. Jarrett Post 342 in Salisbury, was crowned Miss Rowan County Veteran by last year’s winner Drew Pethel.

Destiny Whitman, representing Landis American Legion Post 146, was runner-up.

Many American Legion dignitaries traveled to Faith Saturday, including State Commander Don Bridges of Swansboro, National Executive Committeeman Bill Richard and N.C. American Legion Auxiliary President Linda Laws of Hickory.

“This is my first trip to Faith, and I am impressed,” Laws said.

The Fourth of July celebration continued through Saturday night with the Faith Idol competition finals; races, games and contests in watermelon-eating and hot dog-eating; the Southern Breeze Band; a Salute to Veterans; and fireworks at the Faith School ballpark.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.