ROWLAND — Michelle Shooter is just getting started as mayor of Rowland, but she already senses something distinct going on in the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of excitement in Rowland,” Shooter said. “We’ve really come together since Hurricane Matthew. There’s a special buzz.”
That excitement was on display on Saturday afternoon as the town’s annual Christmas parade rolled down Main Street. Several different community organizations and political leaders cruised by large crowds of spectators as children scrambled to pick candy thrown from the floats.
With the sun coming out and the temperature in the 60s, Rowland residents turned out in noticeably high numbers for the event.
“I was thrilled to see the large crowd we had,” said David Townsend, town clerk. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve had in many years. They had a lot of fun going out in the big, small-town parade.”
The marching bands from South Robeson and Dillon high schools marched, as did Rowland Middle School’s.
Sen. Danny Britt, as well as Robeson County commissioners Berlester Campbell and Roger Oxendine were among the participants.
One group of fan favorites, the Sudan Tomcats, circled the street in their mini purple prowlers. Rolling directly behind the Rowland Rescue Squad, the Shriners exited the audience with high speeds and squealing tires. One of its members, Steve Kinlaw, reflected on what it meant to be a part of the parade.
“We’re glad to be out here doing a good cause for the kids,” Kinlaw said. “We’re always a crowd-pleaser. They clap, they ask us to do turns and blow the horn.”
Near the end of the procession, a float by T and L Characters included people dressed as many popular children’s characters, such as Elmo, the Incredible Hulk, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse.
Little Miss Lumbee Londyn Clark, Junior Miss Lumbee Anna Hunt, Teen Miss Lumbee Mahleah Hunt and Miss Lumbee Madison Davenport also caught a ride.
The overall turnout for the floats was more than organizers anticipated. Many participants learned of the parade in the days leading up to the event.
“We had about twice as many floats as I thought we were going to have,” Townsend said. “We had more people coming in because they heard about our parade, so we are very pleased.”
After the parade, the crowds headed to a Christmas Festival at the Historic Depot on South Railroad Street. Many vendors selling everything from shoes to funnel cakes were at the festival.
“I’ve been doing this for about five years,” said Robert Smith, a vendor selling model cars and a variety of other goods at the festival. “We’ve enjoyed having all the people.”
The event’s success was the result of a widespread effort among Rowland residents to coordinate the logistics of the festivities.
“What makes it successful is the citizens themselves,” Townsend said. “The citizens volunteering and coming out to help. Everybody was helping put floats together, block off traffic, put venues up. Having good citizens makes it all come together.”
With families and friends uniting to take in the festivities, a sense of pride was evident among attendees from the moment the parade started at Rowland Middle School. After all the hard work by the residents to prepare Rowland for the occasion, they could finally kick off the holiday season with some flair.
“That’s what makes small towns special,” Shooter