The Garland Rotary Fair and Parade will once again bring thousands of people to the town for a longstanding all-day family event that offers everything from good eats, fun rides, a tribute to veterans and even a late night street dance.
The 31st annual event, sponsored by the Garland Rotary Club, includes a parade and numerous other activities, along with a horde of vendors, throughout the day Saturday, Oct. 6. Events will officially start with a tribute to the military and its veterans, followed by the convoy of floats, fire trucks, antique cars, bands and others. A full slate of events is on tap, with a street dance bringing the annual event to a close Saturday night.
Rotary president Sandy Norris said parade participants, vendors and sponsors are all still welcome. Veterans are strongly urged to attend the Oct. 6 event, as the theme is again a tribute to those who have served their country. They will be honored during a ceremony to kick off the day, as well as during the parade.
“The day will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a military memorial service,” said Norris. “We want to make it enticing for the veterans to come out, join in and be a part of it. We want them to come from all areas because the theme is ‘A Salute to the Military.’ We want to salute all veterans.”
There is a float dedicated to veterans and those who have served in the military are welcome to ride on that float, Norris said. The tribute service will last about 15 to 20 minutes, following which parade participants will begin to make their way to the starting point. There will also be cars at the memorial service at the Garland Rotary Park for veterans to get a ride over to Seventh Street, where the parade will start at 10:30 a.m.
Antique cars, motorcycles, tractors, homemade floats, local dignitaries, pageant queens, school bands and other mainstays will be a part of the procession as the parade works its way down through the town. From Seventh Street, the parade will move on toward U.S. 701 through town and then right onto Johnson Street, then to Church Street and back toward Seventh Street.
“People can still enter up to that morning,” Norris said. “There are 15 entries so far. Usually they come rolling in closer to the parade. It’s kind of hectic that Friday and Saturday. There were 25 last year.”
The parade usually lasts about 30 to 40 minutes. Vendors, concessions and various other rides and activities will be available the rest of the day. The third annual cornhole tournament is on tap for 1 p.m. that Saturday, with registration from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
The theme “A Salute to the Military” is something close to the heart of the town’s Rotarians. “That has been the theme for at least the last 20 years,” Norris said. “Military has always been very important to us. We will have a book of remembrance, with all the names of local veterans. We encourage each and every veteran to come out and participate.”
George Norris, Sandy’s father-in-law and a veteran in his own regard, will serve as grand marshal for the parade.
The club regularly throws out some names for consideration and discusses them leading up to the annual event. For a long time, a main criteria was to have an active military person. With overseas conflicts in recent years, that has proven more difficult, Norris noted, so Rotarians have considered veterans or someone who has contributed to the town in other ways.
George Norris fits both criteria, as a Coast Guard veteran and a merchant in Garland for nearly a half century.
He operated a grocery store and hot dog stand in town for many years, and helped contribute to commerce during the town’s heyday. “On Saturday night, you couldn’t walk the streets in Garland because there were so many people here,” said Sandy Norris. “He was one of the beginning merchants.”
Barely in his 20s, Norris came back home in the early 1940s and established a home, and business, in Garland.
He owned and operated Rainbow Supermarket, which was later known as George Norris General Merchandise, an all-purpose general store that sold everything from groceries, dry goods, tools and various other items — “just about anything someone needed,” his daughter-in-law said.
Norris’ first wife passed away in 1984 and he stopped operating his stores shortly thereafter. He married his current wife Addie Norris in 1985. Norris, now 92 years old, was quickly deemed deserving of the grand marshal honor.
“When we were considering a candidate for grand marshal, they said we’ve got one right here in the middle of this town,” said Sandy Norris. “He was in the military at one time and he was such a big part of making Garland a town.”
Following the parade, and Norris’ grand marshal duties, vendors will already be set up to display different items, crafts and jewelry, “anything that you can imagine,” Norris noted. There are about 30 to 40 vendors scheduled to be on hand. There will be a fair share of children’s rides and concessions to go along with that.
“There will be hot dogs, hamburgers, seafood, (pork) barbecue, barbecue chicken, Mexican food, anything anyone wants to eat,” said Norris. “The vendors can stay here as long as they want to. They usually stay until 5 p.m.
A street dance, featuring the music of Cape Fear River Band, will take place from 7 until 11 p.m. For some who reside locally, they can freshen up and come back. Others are more than welcome to stick around and enjoy festivities through the evening and into the night, Norris said.
“There will be vendors remaining here with food and other things, so if people want to stay here they can do that,” she said.
Town officials have touted the event with attracting a large number of people, putting the town on display and allowing vendors a good chance to advertise themselves and bringing outside revenue into the southern Sampson town. In addition to saluting veterans, the cause of the fair and parade is a worthwhile one, with money raised being put back into the town and the local community.
Three scholarships are given yearly by the Garland Rotary Club to Union, Lakewood and East Bladen high schools, and donations are made to non-profits. The town also benefits as proceeds are additionally poured into any number of ongoing projects.
“It has brought in revenue because people visit the town and they purchase things. It might not be that day, because they’re outside walking around and there are other things going on, but people new to the town see the Brooks Brothers Outlet and the other stores and they come back,” Norris said. “It’s just brought in new business for merchants over the years. I think it’s just put a spot on the map for us.”
As in recent years, the southern Sampson town is anticipating a turnout of around 2,000 to 2,500 people for the Oct. 6 event. Norris said every year she hears from people inside and outside the county asking about the Rotary event.
“We just have a lot of fun. It’s a good family outing,” said Norris. “I hear from people during the summer who asked if we’re going to have the fair and when it will be. It doesn’t cost anything to be here and it’s just a fun time and people look forward to coming every year.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.