Thursday, August 21, 2014

Longtime organizer leaving command

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 11/6/2013

She’s going out with a bang, Sherry Wright-Anderson said.

Having been the parade coordinator for the Veterans Day celebration for the past 20 years, Wright-Anderson, Ottawa, is handing over the reins after this year, she said.

She’s going out with a bang, Sherry Wright-Anderson said.

Having been the parade coordinator for the Veterans Day celebration for the past 20 years, Wright-Anderson, Ottawa, is handing over the reins after this year, she said.

“This is my 20th year, and I’ve stepped down as of the end of this year,” she said. “So it’s basically kind of my last hurrah.”

Succeeding her will be Harold Mayes, she said, who’s been helping her plan the parade for quite some time and whom she knows will carry on the tradition. But Mayes said he has an inkling Wright-Anderson won’t fully step down.

“She’ll still be in an advisory role,” Mayes said. “There’s still other people on the committee ... who will call on her a bit to get instructions on what she did and how she handled things.”

Wright-Anderson has been in charge of getting participants to take part in the parade to make it what it is today, Mayes said.

“Getting the people that are wanting to be in the parade all lined up and in the lineup for the parade day,” he said. “She does a lot of calls and recalling people up to that point — finding out who’s going to come and get them in the parade.”

Having had a long line of family members in the military, Wright-Anderson said, it was a need to be a voice for veterans that inspired her to help with the parade.

Advocating

“I’m a veteran advocate,” she said. “I have two grandsons serving now. I have a son who served in the marines; I lost two uncles in World War II and one in Korea; my dad was in the Army Air Corps. We’re military all the way down.”

It was more than 20 years ago that Wright-Anderson and Harvey Nicholson set out to make a memorial for Vietnam veterans, but after speaking with her father, a veteran himself, they decided to do a memorial for all the fallen soldiers.

“When I went to do the research, I found out that we had around 112 veterans from World War II alone,” she said. “But Franklin County lost, I think, 210 [people] from World War I to World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.”

After finishing the War Memorial, on the lawn of the Franklin County Courthouse, 315 S. Main St., Ottawa, Wright-Anderson said she got more involved with organizing the Veterans Day parade.

“Two to three years before I took it over it was like three cars long and people wouldn’t even stop and pay homage to our men and women, and I thought that was sad,” she said. “When I finished up with [the War Memorial] they asked me if I’d do a Veterans Day parade, but I had no clue what to do.”

Relying heavily on friends and family, Wright-Anderson said she quickly got to work making phone calls to set up a parade for the following year’s Veterans Day parade.

“I started making contact with the Rotary Club and other clubs I was in and the churches,” she said. “My parade committee was my family and I called on them like the last month before the parade and then put them on every corner during the parade. Thank goodness for all my relatives and people from my church.”

After Wright-Anderson took over the parade coordination, the parade grew in participants and in celebration, she said.

“When I took it over, it was like a block long,” she said. “Then it grew to 20 units, then 40 units and multiplied by two almost every year.”

Perseverance through pain

Coordinating the parade meant Wright-Anderson had to start making phone calls in April to get things set up, she said. It wasn’t long after she took over that the unexpected happened.

“I went through four bouts of cancer,” she said. “I had ovarian cancer in 1993-1994 and was given six months to live. Then in 2004, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and went through thyroid cancer in 2005 and 2006.”

Working through her cancer treatments, Wright-Anderson still planned and coordinated the Veterans Day parade, Mayes said, even when she didn’t have to.

“I told her, ‘If you need to, take the time off,’” Mayes said. “She’s very interested in supporting the veterans and [the Veterans Day celebration] is one of the main things the community does that shows everyone how we want to help the veterans and say thank you to them. She’s always been interested in helping them out and getting them the recognition they deserve — even when she was sick.”

Cancer didn’t stop her and not much else could, Wright-Anderson said, and the parade grew so much that the events started to spill over into the weekend.

“Like in 2000, we went from just the parade to a weekend celebration,” she said. “When it first started, it was just a parade and when it was over it was over, but now as soon as the parade is over, there’s a list of things that happen.”

Time to say farewell

It wasn’t easy to step down from her position, Wright-Anderson said, but the timing is right as her busy schedule has become even more full.

“It’s been hard,” she said. “I got a little teary-eyed when I handed it over, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Wright-Anderson recently got married, and said she’d like to just stay at home with her new husband and be a wife and a homemaker, among other activities she’s planning.

“I’m a chaplain and that’s really important to me because of me and women and families going through cancer and stuff,” she said. “Being a chaplain is very [rewarding] because there’s a lot of hurting people out there.”

As well as being a newlywed and chaplain, Wright-Anderson has taken on another role geared toward advocating for veterans, she said.

“I took over a regional director position for Vietnam Veterans of America, and I have eight states,” she said. “I have to travel to all the states around and find out their information to help the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America [AVVA] and Vietnam Veterans of America [VVA] grow.”

Those who have worked alongside Wright-Anderson to help put together the parade and other events for the Veterans Day celebration know how dedicated she is to veterans, Ray Shumate, re-enactment coordinator for the Veterans Day celebration, said.

“She has tons of knowledge,” Shumate said. “Any time you need something, you ask and she’ll take care of it. She’s very dedicated, the most dedicated person I’ve ever worked with on the Veterans Day celebration.”

It will be difficult to fill her shoes, Mayes said, and working with Wright-Anderson has been a pleasure.

“I have deep gratitude and thanks for all the work she’s put in,” Mayes said. “It started off back in the early to mid-90s with just a parade that lasted maybe 10 minutes to now it’s an hour and a half long and we’re talking probably a couple hundred entries in the parade each year — and that’s all due to her.”

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