Last wish sets Christmas parade’s wheels in motion

Fifteen years ago a 92-year-old woman in Piedmont divulged a little secret to Grady Rhinehart.

“She told me she’d never seen a Christmas parade before and she wanted to see one before she passed away,” Rhinehart said.

So that night he went to his church, Rock Run Baptist, for Wednesday night prayer meeting and notified them they had a little event to organize.

“We put that thing together in two or three weeks and we carried it right by her house. She was able to sit out on her porch and watch it,” Rhinehart said. “We probably had 20 floats that year. It’s grown since then.”

He laughs, though, as he admits “grown” might be an understatement. Through the past 15 years that dear lady’s dying wish has turned into the state’s biggest Christmas parade, he said.

“The community loves it and people come from all over,” Rhinehart said.

And they don’t just come from other states to see it — they come to be in it.

The parade includes John Deere tractors, Gators, trailers and cars. Some years the Mayfield cow shows up and they  toss out ice cream sandwiches. A local man called Cathead throws stuffed animals from a deer stand on his float. Bass Pro Shop even sponsors the event now, Rhinehart said. 

The sheriff’s department shuts that mile and a half of road down and thousands of people gather. On display are tens of thousands of Christmas lights.

“You have to see it to believe it,” Rhinehart said. “We’re just a bunch of old country folks trying to have a good time and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger.”

But not only that, it’s a big opportunity for outreach, he said. Rock Run Baptist opens up the fellowship hall to serve chili, hot dogs and soup to anyone who wants a meal.

Working together

Pastor Lewis Conaway says it’s a great opportunity to talk to people and invite them to church.

“We all work together,” he said.

And by that he means the churches. On the other end of the parade route is a local Methodist church that opens its doors to dispense hot chocolate, doughnuts and other snacks.

Wendell Dutton, associational missions director for Cherokee Baptist Association, said the local churches work together “in a tremendous fashion.”

They engage in a lot of conversations and the Gideons distribute Bibles. All in all it’s more than Rhinehart and his friends could’ve ever dreamed up 15 years ago.

“We thought it would just be a one-time deal. We were just trying to make a woman happy and make her wish come true,” he said. “But we said, ‘Lord, this is your parade — do what You want to with it.’ And this is what He did.” 

This year’s Christmas parade will be held Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. (Grace Thornton)