Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle has worked the Martinez Christmas parade in some fashion since he came to the sheriff's office in 1984.
He's patrolled lots, stood a post along the parade route and, since elected sheriff in 1995, has led the parade. Historically, the sheriff has led the parade for many years - long before Whittle was elected, he said. Whittle never thought of himself as grand marshal, simply the last of the deputies clearing traffic for the parade.
"I look at it as a duty of the job myself," Whittle said. "I enjoy it. I do not look at it as being grand marshal. I am not trying to make little of it at all or make anything grand out of it. I just look at it as something the sheriff has always done."
There are advantages to riding in front in a marked patrol car, Whittle said, including not having to stand at parade rest along the route for two hours or following horses down the parade route.
Plus, it is more fun, he said.
"I enjoy it because I am out front and get to say hello to people and speak to them, wave at the kids," Whittle said. "That is a fun thing. I like the parade and I like seeing folks I do not get to see on a regular basis. The kids get a real big kick out of waving and saying, 'Merry Christmas' to the police officers."
Whittle will kick off the parade today at 1:45 p.m. beginning at Columbia Square Shopping Center. The parade has been put on for over 30 years by the Merchants Association of Columbia County, said Ruby Lane, co-organizer of the parade with her husband, Ted.
Organizing the parade has typically been a man's job within the association, Lane said. She has found she is a little nervous and that the parade is much more work than she expected.
"There is so much work involved," Lane said. "It really is a lot of work. You have got to work with TV station, DOT, the sheriff's office, the fire department, BFI, who puts out cans for trash, and all the folks from roads and bridges, the guys that do all the closings of the roads. It really is more than I ever thought it would ever be."
Last year's parade boasted 123 entries traveling east on Washington Road to the Richmond County line. The parade has grown to more than 130 entries and the Lanes expect almost 30,000 people to line the sides of Washington Road to watch.
"It keeps getting bigger and bigger and it gets better and better," Lane said. "We are going to have some good floats in there this year. It is going to be real nice. I think it will be real colorful and pretty."
Five judges, in front of the First Union Bank, will choose first, second and third place winners in church, scouts, band, commercial and ROTC entries. The chairman will choose the Best of Show float from all the entries.
The parade will be televised live on WRDW-TV (Channel 12) and replayed later tonight.
Grovetown will spill cheer into the streets beginning at noon, Saturday, Dec. 7.
Harlem will be the last to march their holiday cheer down the center of the town's streets. The Harlem Lions Club-sponsored parade will start at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at Harlem Middle School. It will continue to U.S. Highway 78, then back toward town to Louisville Road and end up back at the middle school.
"We're just planning on having a normal holiday parade," said Bob Knight, one of the organizers of the parade. "We're not planning on anything spectacular or fancy. Just something fun you can bring the wife and kids to."
Applications for those wishing to participate are available at Harlem City Hall or by calling 556-3448 for more information. There are 30 entries thus far for the parade and the deadline to enter is Dec. 10.
For more information on the Harlem parade, call Bob Knight at (706) 556-6104 or Harlem City Hall at (706) 556-3448.
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