Hometown heroes get a special salute

From soldiers to soccer coaches, the parade paid tribute to all kinds of heroes.
AUSTINTOWN -- Gerie Morar enjoyed every aspect of Monday's Austintown Salutes Hometown Heroes parade, especially the recognition for veterans.
"I like the patriotism," she said. "The Fourth of July is all about those guys."
The Austintown resident said she attends the parade every year. This year, she brought two of her grandchildren, Christian and Shelby London, as well as other family members, to see the festivities in front of Wedgewood Plaza.
Christian, 9, was in the parade two years ago; Shelby was a member of the Austintown Middle School Colts cheerleading team in last year's event.
Morar and her family were among more than 1,000 people who lined both sides of Raccoon Road on a hot and humid Monday afternoon to see the procession of floats, vintage vehicles, limousines, bands, cheerleaders, mascots, a mobile command post, police cars, firetrucks and other units.
Taking part
Participants included the American Legion Auxiliary Post 301, the Mahoning Valley chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, the Boy Scouts and the Austintown Township Park Department. A combination of wailing sirens, horns and soft applause filled the air.
Many children including Christian scrambled along the sidelines to collect the bubble gum and other candy that many of the approximately 300 participants in the parade tossed at them.
Some of the vehicles in the 1 1/2-hour-long parade, which started near Kirk and Raccoon roads and ended at Austintown Fitch High School, were a 1967 Ford Galaxie, a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda and a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster.
Honoring exemplars
The parade's theme was saluting and honoring local heroes, explained Chris Lewis, the event's chairman. Heroes include teachers, police officers, firefighters, veterans, soldiers and others, he said.
"We all have heroes or people we think of as heroes for many reasons," Lewis said.
The children of Creative Childplay day-care center had the opportunity to choose their own heroes, which included a gym teacher, two stepmothers, a grandfather, a doctor, a soccer coach, an Austintown police officer, a cousin, a father and a military officer. The kids got to have their picture taken with their heroes, said Abby Courtney, owner of CWC Productions of Cornersburg.
Courtney and her sister, Gina Sferra, who owns the Austintown-based day-care facility, were among six family members and friends who built the colorful displays they used in the parade.
"We wanted this to be for the kids," Courtney said of the group's decision to take part in the parade for a fourth year.
Courtney praised PI & amp;I Motor Express Inc. of Sharon, Pa., for donating the new trailer the group used to show its wares to parade watchers.
Best in show
Lewis, who also works for Clear Channel Radio in Boardman, said prizes of $200, $100 and $50 were given for the three best floats. Sixty-three units were entered in this year's event, up slightly from around 60 the last few years, Lewis said.
Lt. Mark Durkin of the Austintown Police Department was honored as grand marshal of the parade, Lewis said. Durkin is the department's assistant chief and has been fighting a life-threatening illness, Lewis noted.
"In our eyes, there's no greater hometown hero," he said. "He's an overall good person, is nice to everybody and does one hell of a job over at the police station as assistant chief."
Lewis added that he grew up on Raccoon Road and has seen the parade nearly every year of his life. For years, his Fourth of July has been planned around the annual event, and its importance extends beyond the pageantry, Lewis said.
"I celebrate with family and friends and honor America," he said. "I enjoy giving back to the community, and it's one of the things every American should do."
Lewis also praised the 17-member Austintown Fourth of July Committee, which helped plan the parade. The volunteers coordinate the holiday fireworks show at Fitch as well as other Fourth of July activities, and the township does not put on the events, he said.

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