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Dacula's Memorial Day parade celebrates 20 years

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Marvin Atherton is the organizer of the Dacula Memorial Day Parade. The event is celebrating its 20th year on Monday.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Marvin Atherton is the organizer of the Dacula Memorial Day Parade. The event is celebrating its 20th year on Monday.

IF YOU GO

• What: Dacula’s Memorial Day

• When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday

• Where: Downtown Dacula, at the intersection of Harbins Road and Winder Highway

• Cost: Free admission, but pay to play.

• For more information: Visit www.daculamemorialday.com.

LIST OF EVENTS

• Fun run 8 a.m.

• 5K race 8:30 a.m.

• Parade 10 a.m.

• Festival 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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File Photo In this 2007 file photo, Hailey Sullivan, left, and her sister, Brooks, wave to passing floats as they try to get candy in their hat.

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File Photo In this 2008 file photo, Miss Dacula winners recognize William Tyler Hinton, a combat medic with the United States Army Reserves during the parade.

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File Photo In this 2006 file photo, Young Miss Dacula Nicole Roberts makes her way down the route during the 13th annual Memorial Day parade in Dacula. About 120 groups participated in the parade that year.

DACULA -- In 1993, Dacula resident Marvin Atherton was one of the thousands of spectators at Stone Mountain's Fourth of July parade.

"I was standing there holding a flag, thinking this was really cool," he said. "But then I wanted to do a parade."

He approached the Dacula City Council and mayor about the idea, and the group gave him a mixed answer.

"They told me I could do it, but they couldn't support me," Atherton said. "They didn't think anyone would show up. I paid for my own police officers to close intersections."

There were about 25 entries that applied to be in the first parade. He wasn't sure if anyone would show up for the event, including those in the parade.

"I had no idea if anyone would show," Atherton said. "When the day came, there were more people on the streets of Dacula than anyone could remember."

Twenty years later, the tradition continues through the streets of Dacula with approximately 160 entries and 10,000 to 12,000 spectators. This year's parade theme is "20 Years of Honor and Remembrance," which is presented by the Central Georgia Mounted Color Guard. The grand marshal is a riderless horse to honor all fallen soldiers from all wars who sacrificed their lives for freedom for our country.

Dacula's Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks is a big supporter of Atherton's work every year because the event has become a part of the city's identity.

"The Memorial Day events certainly are important," he said. "They help tell the story of Dacula, but Dacula is more than that. So I do feel that the events are the sum total of the identity of Dacula."

Although Atherton isn't a veteran, he believes it's important to remember those who have come before, giving Americans their freedom.

"Memorial Day is the forgotten holiday," he said. "Everyone thinks this is more like the beginning of summer. People go on vacations, pools are open, the lake is open. No one thinks of why we could do (those things). We couldn't without our soldiers and our troops. If it's just for a couple of hours, I just want people to focus on Memorial Day."

Atherton will give a speech at 9:30 a.m. and emcee the parade from Fire Station 16 located at 195 Dacula Road in Dacula.

At 10 a.m., the parade begins at Hebron Baptist Church, 202 Hebron Church Road, and proceeds down Dacula Road, turns right on Second Avenue and ends at Dacula High School.

Since the city doesn't host any other festivals throughout the year, Dacula's mayor enjoys this event because it brings the community together, no matter their backgrounds.

"The activities produced on Memorial Day in Dacula aren't about politics," Wilbanks said. "It is just about people. Their adversities, their triumphs, their daily lives."