HAAC’s 4th of July Bash returns in full | News

Written by Christina Amano Dolan Editor

The Hanover Arts and Activities Center (HAAC) is back on the streets of Ashland this year to celebrate the community’s beloved Fourth of July Parade. With thousands of residents gathering on the sidewalks on the morning of July 4th to witness the colorful spectacle, enjoy live music, old-fashioned games, apple pie and the adorable pets in the garden, this year’s event is back in full glory after two years of anticipation.

HAAC Executive Director Sarah Wright Holloway said that while they were able to host a virtual show in 2019 and an in-person event last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event was more successful than ever.

“The past few years have been really difficult for Hannover Arts as an organization because our entire mission is based on gathering as a community,” said Wright Holloway. “We’re still very cognizant of trying to keep people as safe as possible in these times, but we’re really happy to get back to working together as a community because people really love it.”

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She said this year’s event “just got out of the water” with a record number of attendees. According to the Ashland Police Department, about 1,500 people were present throughout the three-hour event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Residents from near and far have visited Ashland for this beloved event, including Mary Watts, a Henrico resident who has been visiting the show for 15 years because “there is nothing else like it.”

“Lots of locals get together. You know, they have lawn chairs and dress-up dogs,” Watts said. “It just feels like a small town.”

Longtime Ashland resident Ella Swagger, accompanied by her besties Rosie Morris and Melanie Fleischer, said the show is a community staple that “embodies the feel of small-town community” in Ashland.

“You know, you can’t walk 10 feet without seeing someone you know,” Swagger said. “During COVID, we didn’t have that kind of community gathering, and I think we all appreciate that a lot now. It’s so great to see people you know and don’t know and for that sense of community.”

This year’s parade, led by parade chief Sharon Olivo Perez, featured returning brigades and spontaneous participation by community members.

“The nature of our parade tends to be a little chaotic in a small town, you know, parts of it organically happening,” said Wright Holloway.

Bubbles were blasted into the air accompanied by the live music of the marching band Cacophony of the Universe (COTU). Visitors cheered and waved for the colorful brigades making their way down the street, including the Basic Lawn Chair Brigade, the National Pet Brigade, the National Bicycle Brigade and the Basset Hound Brigade. Ashland City Council members and this year’s Grand Marshal, Randolph Macon College (RMC) men’s basketball coach Josh Merkel, showed their spirit in the show’s lineup.

Wright Holloway said she loves the show, because it shows the fun and whimsical side of town, her favorite aspect of the day is always the park festivities that follow.

The lawn party featured fun family games including corn hole, three-legged race, potato sack race, egg toss, water balloon toss and more.

“And what I love about watching all the kids play next, while you’re partying, is that you get little kids right up to the teens taking part in the old garden games,” said Wright Holloway. “And everyone is having a great time.”

Today’s events also included the Hanover Band’s return to concerts, singing the Hanover Idol national anthem Audrey Kate Taylor, Hanover Junior Idol Rebecca Turner’s performance of “Raise Every Sound” and light entertainment by Roger Reynolds, event director and founder of CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation.

“We are excited to see everyone here today – friends, neighbors, visitors and new faces,” Reynolds told the audience who gathered in front of HAAC to hear a live performance by the Hanover Orchestra. “It’s our Fourth of July parade and celebration…we gather in honor of the 246 years…of our nation’s independence and to celebrate all the things that make us uniquely American.”

Reynolds also announced the winners of the Patriotic Pet and Apple Pie Contest for the day and led an auction with the winning apple pies for HAAC.

This year, Wright Holloway said, has attracted a large number of pie orders. The pies not placed in the competition were sold alongside the Donated Costco pies by the slice at the HAAC booth for the center, with all 200 pies sold out an hour before the event ended.

“Our pie sales have been crazy this year,” Wright Holloway said.

Adi Haas won first place this year in the apple pie competition, second place Elizabeth Sloppy and third place Arleen Dooley. Amelia Kelly was named the winner for children and Tish Yorio won the most national category.

Wright Holloway said one of the most important aspects of the show and event is making sure it’s a “completely community event,” run purely by volunteers from the community and HAAC along with a vendor list that includes local nonprofits.

Boy Scout Troop 793 ran in the hamburger and hot dog stand, Girl Scout Troop 5465 organized a pet contest and Clay Spring Ruritans provided snow cones for guests. This year’s Presentation Sponsor was Ashland Veterinary Hospital.

Wright Holloway expressed her excitement at the success this year and said she looks forward to the center’s upcoming community programs, including the Bastille Day celebration on Thursday, July 14, and a paranormal investigation on July 30 with Kling Brothers and Katie Burr of Discovery Channel’s “Ghost Lab.”

For more information on the HAAC event calendar and various programs, visit the website: https://www.hanoverarts.net/.

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