Rain or shine, the Christmas festival and parade held in Pembroke for 30 years benefit 4-H Club members throughout Bryan County.
Saturday, umbrellas were the popular accessory as intermittent rain dampened the first hours of the festival and pelted the 11 a.m. parade. But the show went on as it has done almost every year.
The festival brought out more than 70 vendors selling sugar cookies, sausage dogs and pizza slices, wooden elves, leather belts and fabric angels. There was even some art by an artist who cheerfully asserted that his acrylic paintings were waterproof.
Shanna Davis, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator in Bryan County, said Saturday’s celebration, through vendor and parade entry fees, would raise about $1,400 for the 4-H Club.
With more than 900 club members in grades 5-12 countywide, that’s only about $1.50 per member. Yet it’s the Bryan County 4-H’s largest annual fundraising event.
“We’ll be lucky today to raise about $1,400, and that’s one reason we really, really want to get the whole county involved and not just let everyone think it’s a Pembroke parade,” Davis said. “We want everyone to know this is Bryan County 4-H, not just the Pembroke 4-H.”
The parade and festival have always been held in Pembroke because it is the county seat, but organizers would love to see greater participation from Richmond Hill, Davis said, noting that 4-H benefits youth countywide.
Club members research individual interests and turn them into public presentations through annual Project Achievement competitions. Some form their own project clubs around shared interests.
In ongoing community service work, the 4-H assists the Bryan County Animal Shelter with fundraisers, donations of pet food and other supplies and an annual rabies clinic. Members also collect 400-500 pounds of aluminum can tabs each year for a May drive benefitting the Ronald McDonald House. They collect dental health and personal care items for a February donation to the same organization.
“We like to give something back to the community, and we like to do local so the kids can see what their efforts are doing,” Davis said.
Project SAFE Shooting Sports, with 63 members the Bryan County 4-H’s largest activity group, had its own booth at the festival. Members sold Byrd Cookie Co. products, and their booth served as the lost-and-found center.
The acronym stands for “Shooting Awareness, Fundamentals and Education.” Project SAFE fields a BB-gun team for grades 5-8 and a shotgun team for grades 7-12 in both Pembroke and Richmond Hill.
The 4-H currently has an archery team, for grades 6-12, in Pembroke only but is looking for an archery coach for the Richmond Hill area, Davis said.
Saturday’s parade enlisted 58 entries prior to lineup. Some of these included multiple vehicles. The rain prompted a few cancellations, acknowledged Pembroke Downtown Development Authority Director Sharroll Fanslau, who wore a police vest and carried a clipboard to help organize the parade.
The city of Pembroke deploys its police, fire, street department and other personnel to keep the event organized and safe, but does it to assist the 4-H, Fanslau said. Davis said she and the 4-H are grateful for the city’s support.
Mike Foxworth, now Pembroke’s code enforcement officer, described the passing parade entries over the loudspeaker, as he has done for more than 20 years.
“We’ve had it rain, freezing cold, burning hot,” Foxworth said. “You name it, we’ve had it. I mean, I went home one time and put on more clothes twice, it was so cold.”
Years ago, the parade was cancelled once, according to Foxworth and Fanslau. But that was because of a sleet storm, not mere rain.
Fort Stewart and its 3rd Infantry Division also made a weather-resistant showing in this year’s parade. Lt. Col. Christopher Nyland and Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny Meadows led the contingent from the 1-30th Infantry “Battle Boars” Battalion. But Brig. Gen. John Hort was also there, in a car driven by Pembroke Public Safety Director William Collins.
The 3rd ID Band, “Rhythm of the Marne,” marched by playing “Frosty the Snowman” while Foxworth announced from the door of the Pembroke Welcome Center, decorated as Santa’s Workshop.
The Southeast Georgia Rusty Relics group drove antique tractors in the parade. Shriners from throughout the area rode in the usual assortment of strange vehicles.
The Evans County Classics Car Club from Claxton also entered some of their cherished cars in the parade, which was followed by a car show.
A bicycle-mounted Pembroke Police Department officer escorted a group of children on decorated bikes in the parade. Daxwell Carrera, 7, of Ellabell, won first prize in the bike decorating contest. Other prizes went to Summer Evans, 11, of Black Creek; Kendrick Donnelly, 8, of Pembroke; and Hailey Jones, 10, also of Pembroke.
The prize for best civic organization float went to the Junior ABATE, a part of the American Bikers Active Toward Education, a motorcycling group that promotes riders’ rights and road safety. On their float, a motorcycle pulled Santa’s sleigh.
Top prize for a business float went to First Bank of Coastal Georgia, Davis said.
Meanwhile, festival vendors had moved water-sensitive items under their tents or covered them with plastic sheeting.
However, Robert Hicks, a Darien artist whose pictures in acrylic paint portray subjects as varied as shrimp boats and ballerinas, left many of them out in the rain.
“It won’t hurt them at all,” he said. “It will actually help clean them, make them look pretty.”
The persistence of vendors appeared to pay off when, as the parade ended, sunshine broke through the clouds and people packed the festival area at lunchtime.