Faith celebrates Fourth of July with pride for those who serve

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, July 5, 2017

FAITH — If there’s one thing the people of Faith have on the Fourth of July, it’s pride.

And not just in the town’s parade, which has in years past drawn national attention and a visit from former President George H. Bush while he was in office.

But there’s something more — residents of Faith and lifelong parade-goers heaped praise on the town’s support for the military and its respect for the nation Tuesday as the town held its traditional celebration of Independence Day.

As the festivities launched Tuesday with the 10 a.m. parade, spectators lining the streets clapped and cheered at each American flag and group of veterans that passed.

Gabe Welch, a recent graduate of the Parris Island Marine Corps training depot, said the thought of Faith’s Fourth of July parade kept him going through his grueling boot camp.

“I dreamed about that,” he said of the parade.

Welch has to return to Marine duty July 11, but he managed to get enough time off to spend the holiday with his family. They took up almost an entire block, right on Main Street — nearly 40 family members spanning four generations and watched over by matriarch Shirley Russ.

Russ and her family, all from Faith, have been taking in the parade for decades, though not quite as long as the celebration’s 71 years.

“It’s where our heart is,” Russ said.

When he was still alive, Russ’s husband, known fondly in the family as Grandpa Rusty, would help grill hamburgers in the park for the hungry crowds that flooded into town each year.

Grandpa Rusty was himself a military veteran. Gabe said spending time with his grandfather, as well as seeing the respect paid to service men and women each year at the parade, inspired him to join the military.

The family doesn’t let anything get in the way of Faith’s Fourth of July celebration. Just a few weeks ago, Russ had two heart procedures — including having a pacemaker put in. But on Tuesday morning, she was outside with her family, wearing a bright blue shirt that said “Happy 4th, y’all.”

“I don’t think people get it if they’re not from here,” daughter Lydia Larios said of the celebration.

As her relatives settled into chairs, Larios greeted by name the people who squeezed by on the crowded sidewalk. The parade, she said, is something that draws the community together. It’s something that pulls thousands of people to the tiny town year after year to see the floats, catch candy, walk through the ride-packed fairgrounds or grab some good food.

“We were raised in this,” she said. “The Fourth of July, patriotism — it’s in our roots.”

According to organizers, the celebration started in 1947 when Mayor Ray Lyerly suggested a community project involving all Rowan County residents.

The parade featured everything from trucks to tractors, with floats decked out in red, white and blue playing patriotic music and riders tossing candy to children lining Main Street. Businesses and politicians took the opportunity to advertise, and local pastors delivered sermons from the beds of trucks.

As the cars and floats wound their way through Faith, some paused so that drivers could wave or call out to people they knew. Parade-goers approached veterans marching in the procession to offer a hug, a salute or a handshake.

But festivities didn’t end with the final parade float. Along with a 10 p.m. fireworks show, visitors could also explore the fair, join a hot dog-eating contest and watch the final competition of Faith Idol.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.