Christmas parade

Following a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Milledgeville Exchange Club’s annual Christmas parade is back in 2021.

The festivities are set for Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. when the parade will cruise its customary route right through the heart of downtown Milledgeville on Hancock Street. 

The Rev. Tony Fraley has been tabbed as this year’s grand marshal, but he’s not the only one being honored. Area health care workers will serve as “honorary grand marshals” for the traditional holiday event in recognition of all the hard work they have done throughout the pandemic. Representatives of the local healthcare community will ride on a float sponsored by the Milledgeville Exchange Club. 

Each year the local Christmas parade has a theme, and this year’s is “Christmas in Milledgeville.” 

Jeff Wells, Milledgeville Exchange Club past president and Christmas parade committee chair, said the local civic organization is happy to bring the parade back to the community after all the difficulties everyone has faced these last 20 months or so. 

“There is a great energy and excitement surrounding the parade that I have sensed in both the Exchange Club and the community,” said Wells. “Of course, members of the Exchange Club are glad we can do the parade this year after its absence during the pandemic, but I have received a lot of positive responses from the community, and much of that has focused on coming together as a community to see something that is traditionally associated with the holidays and that families can enjoy again.There were things the pandemic took away that people are glad to see return, not for just the sake of the event, but the greater realization that life is returning to normal. Many have told me that the parade is a very big part of the holiday tradition in Milledgeville that goes way back into the city's history. For many of us in the Exchange Club, we are so grateful we can plan and execute the parade as part of our mission of community service, which took a hit during the height of the pandemic.”

While the route remains the same, Wells did note there are some changes to this year’s parade, though nothing viewers are likely to notice. There are no entry fees for floats, and organizers are focusing on and encouraging the use of homemade floats rather than commercial ones. Two local sponsors — Century Bank and Exchange Bank — have come together to sponsor the Santa and Mrs. Claus float that will headline the afternoon. Exchange Club also sold lower-level sponsorships, and those sponsors will be recognized with banners on the two bank buildings as well as with yard signs. 

This year’s grand marshal, Rev. Fraley, has served as pastor of Vaughn Chapel Baptist Church and an elected member of the Georgia Military College Board of Trustees. In addition to his time in ministry and on the GMC board, Fraley has served as president of the Baldwin County 21st Century Ministerial Alliance, Riverbend Correctional Facility Board of Directors, Salvation Army and Adult Education Program boards, and is the co-owner of Voyage of Hope. Fraley is also the founder of Crack Prevention-the Community Conservation Center. The reverend has been a minister for the past 40 years, and has suffered from congestive heart failure for over two decades. When his medication no longer worked, he went on the transplant list for a new heart and kidney. Fraley received both in May, and is doing fine. He’s being honored for his dedication to serving the Milledgeville community through his ministry and other work.

Slated to join Fraley in the parade are U.S. Congressman Jody Hice, state Rep. Rick Williams, Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black, Milledgeville Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan, and new Georgia College President Cathy Cox.

“We are excited to have these community leaders as part of our parade,” Wells said.

The Milledgeville Exchange Club is still accepting entries for next month’s parade. The deadline has been set at Dec. 1 according to the club’s Facebook page. Those interested in joining should send an email to millyexchange@gmail.com. 

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