MARIETTA – Lt. Clinton Billings Sr., a member of the Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department, has been attending the annual Christmas parade in Marietta for close to 30 years. With each installment, he sees continued improvement in all aspects of the event.
“It’s getting better and better every year,” he said. “More people, and everyone’s getting along with one another.”
Billings attended Saturday afternoon as marching bands, government representatives, Shriners and first responders entertained the crowd at the 31st annual Marietta/Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department Christmas Parade.
Floats and vehicles processed through the town of about 175 for almost two hours, as various representatives throughout the region came to help spread the holiday spirit.
High school marching bands from St. Pauls, Fairmont, Lumberton and South Robeson were among the parade’s participants. Rowland Middle School’s band also sounded off.
In addition to the marching band, Fairmont’s JROTC unit, “Tornado Battalion,” performed a set of drills for the crowd. A large group of students from Fairmont Middle School’s Project Home program participated as well. Under the direction of Staff Sgt. Sammy Shropshire, the students presented the program’s mission statement to spectators at regular intervals and engaged in some motivational chants as well.
The Sudan Shriners and Omar Shriners also provided excitement with a number of their signature floats. The Sudan Pirates rolled through in a ship complete with smoking cannons and trademark flags. Meanwhile, the Omar Jazz Morticians sang a selection of songs while walking alongside their customized hearse.
Firetrucks from Dillon County in nearby South Carolina, Fairmont and White House also took part in the procession with sirens and horns blaring.
Mayor Justin Oliver, District Court Judge Dale Deese and Robeson County Commissioner Berlester Campbell were among the political leaders appearing in the parade.
Greek organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha and Zeta Phi Beta were also represented in the parade.
The impressive number of floats, combined with a big turnout of spectators, made the event a success. Donna Stubbs recalled a time when the event consisted of just six units, noting how much the event has grown in significance over the years.
“It’s a typical Marietta parade,” Stubbs said while holding 1-year-old Eli Stone.
It was Stone’s second time at the parade, but his first time actually witnessing it.
“He was here last year, but he was just a couple of months old, so he slept through it,” Stubbs said.
Tasha Oxendine, who served as announcer for the event, introduced each float to the crowd and welcomed all of the participants to Marietta. Oxendine, the spokesperson for the county school system, has been attending the event for around seven years.
“My favorite part is the bands and the Shriners,” Oxendine said after the parade. “The Shriners are so much fun. They make the parade fun, they’re festive, but they’re doing a great job raising awareness.”
The town experienced some rain early in the morning before the parade, but the showers held off long enough for all of the floats to process through the streets. It wasn’t until Oxendine announced the last entry that rain began to fall again, causing the crowd to retreat indoors.
The Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department hosted an auction at the town’s community building following the parade. Items ranging from home goods to car decals and tools were available in the auction. A raffle was also held, with raffle tickets being sold by volunteers and representatives of the fire department throughout the parade.
Later in the day, St. Pauls held its annual Christmas parade.
Reach Brandon Tester by calling 910-816-1989 or on Twitter at @Tester_Brandon.