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Deans dubbed parade marshals

When the idea of a neighborhood Fourth of July parade for the handful of China Grove residents crossed Rita Dean’s mind, she never thought that it would be more than that.

Now, thousands of people make their way from north, south, east and west to China Grove for the annual China Grove Fourth of July Parade.

Those who have been tell those who haven’t “You won’t believe it!” And nobody does until they’ve seen the usually sleepy little community that is home to about 50 “city limit” residents swell to rival Brundidge as the second largest town in Pike County.

“It really is hard to believe,” said Rita Dean, who with her husband, Jimmy, will serve as the grand marshals of the 10th Annual China Grove Parade. “In fact, it’s even hard for us to believe.”

The Deans accepted the honor as grand marshals a bit reluctantly.

“We’ve been asked several times but I’ve always said that if we make it to 10 years, maybe then,” Rita said. “This is our tenth year so we agreed.”

The Deans have been at the spearhead of the China Grove Parade since that Fourth of July 10 years ago when children decorated their bikes and rode through downtown China Grove to the appreciative applause of their mamas and daddies.

But the Deans are quick to give credit to all the other who have worked so tirelessly to keep the parade going. It does take a village and what a village it is.

China Grove is such a special place for those who call it home, those who have ties to the community and those who wish they did.

The Deans moved to China Grove 10 years ago and into the home that has been in Jimmy Dean’s family since the Civil War. There are two different stories about the origin of the house.

“It depends on who’s telling and who’s listening as to which story is told,” Rita Dean said, laughing. “But we love living in China Grove. We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else and it’s an honor to be the grand marshals of our 10th annual parade.”

While Rita is an organizer and promoter along with her friend and neighbor, Diane LaFountaine, Jimmy Dean and his sons are the free spirits in the family.

Each year, the Dean boys run the most popular place in town – the free watermelon wagon. All that one needs to get one or two slices of the ice cold Southern delicacy is smile and say ‘thank you.”

“People ask, ‘Don’t we have to pay?’ and my answer is ‘If we had to charge we wouldn’t do it,’” Dean said. “We really appreciate our friends at CMB Food in Montgomery for their generosity with the watermelons. We’re just proud to be a part of this wonderful Fourth of July celebration that seems to bring so much pleasure to so many.”

The Deans are often asked what brings people out of the woodwork and from under the ceiling fans to a hot and often sultry summertime parade.

“We’ve asked ourselves that question,” Jimmy said. “What draws all of these people to a little community like China Grove on the Fourth of the July?”

The Deans said the answer is probably as simple as the question is complex.

Jimmy said it’s like stepping back in time when people came together to celebrate an occasion and enjoy the fellowship of friends and neighbors.

“We don’t have corporate sponsors or vendors pushing you to buy things,” he said. It’s not that kind of event. It’s a people event. Everyone feels like it’s their parade. They take ownership in it because they are such a big part of it and its success.”

Rita agreed that the China Grove Parade is the people’s parade. You can parade or you can stand and watch. And, if you’re watching and take a notion to parade you just step right in and march along.

“The parade and everything around it is such a relaxed atmosphere, noting pretentious,” Rita said. “There’s nothing structured about it. It’s just people having a good time getting together. You can come and stay a few minutes or all day. It’s like visiting with your grandparents or a favorite aunt. It’s just like coming home.”