Origins and Memories of The Blue Grass Fourth of July Parade


Independence Day is fast approaching, and a small-town tradition continues to honor the occasion in Highland County with a parade and lawn party in Blue Grass.  Betty Mitchell, Director of the Blue Grass Resource Center, shares her knowledge on the origins of the festivities.

Ms. Mitchell says, “Well, in 1997, when the new post office was constructed in Blue Grass, and the old post office there at the corner, which used to be the Blue Grass Valley Bank was empty, we had the idea to purchase the building and start a little nonprofit, the Blue Grass Resource Center, and the first program was the Blue Grass Book Bank, and it was a children’s lending library.  And in 1998, Mary Kirby* was the first librarian, and she came up with the idea, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun for Fourth of July to get the kids together and dress up and have a little parade, so that kicked it off, and this coming year will be the 22nd year of the parade.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long!”

“It started as a parade at 10 o’clock in the morning, and we told the kids to be there no later than 9:45 so that they could line up, and it was billed as ‘The Littlest Parade in Virginia.’  Decorate your wagon.  Decorate your dog.  Ride your bike.  Just come and participate!  And the members of the Board and their families and neighbors were great about making cookies.  We had lemonade, cookies, and homemade ice cream, so it grew over the years.  George Reed Swecker, who many people remember, was always the leader of the parade, and it started down at the Ruritan Club and proceeded to the Book Bank, and then turned around and went back, so if you missed it the first time, you could see it going back,” she says with a laugh.

Some things have changed, and some haven’t, since the event’s inception.  Ms. Mitchell says, “Now, it starts at 5 o’clock in the afternoon because the Blue Grass Ruritans, who have been partners for years with the Book Bank, along with the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, were also partners.  Then, the Ruritan Club took that over and has been doing it for a number o’ years, so we’re grateful that it’s continuing.”

“My husband, Brian Richardson, who’s a Ruritan Member, is usually the one who kinda gets people together in the parking lot and leads the parade off, and we start it with the flag that was Tommy McNamara* – his wife, Minor*, was on the Board at the Book Bank, and Tommy passed away in 2005 and was a decorated World War II Veteran, and, so, we usually start the parade with the American Flag that his wife, Minor* donated to us.”

Many special memories have been made through the years.  “I think people have kinda described this as kind of a hometown American Parade,” Ms. Mitchell says.  “I mean, it’s nothing big or exciting, but people come out.  They take pride in their community and line up and enjoy seein’ the children who are involved, and then it gives the kids somethin’ really fun to look forward to, and, I think, keeps alive a spirit of community.”

“You know, as I was kind of thinking about talking with you today and looking back over the people who were so diligent about making homemade ice cream.  Norma Lee Sponaugle* always made raspberry, and people would line up for that, and Mildred Mullenax*, so lots of people who aren’t with us any more, unfortunately, but it’s been a fun thing to have in the community, I think, for a number of years.”

“We appreciate all the support that people have coming out and would love to have people give us pictures and memories of it,” she says.  And you can reach Betty Mitchell with any memories or photos at 540-474-3333.

Again, this year’s parade is sponsored by The Blue Grass Ruritan Club and will begin at 5:00 p.m. on July 4, 2019 on Main Street in Blue Grass, with a lawn party immediately following.  There will be live music and entertainment, as well as food for sale.  People are invited to bring a lawn chair.  To learn about joining the Ruritan Family, folks can contact any Ruritan Member.

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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