The Mt. Juliet Christmas parade may have been postponed for weather, but no storm could completely dampen the city’s spirits. It took a little compromise with local businesses, but the annual event resumed as usual.
It takes an entire city to put it on, but there’s one man at the center who helps to make it all happen.
Mt. Juliet Parks and Recreation Director Rocky Lee has been in his position for nine years, but he’s been overseeing the parade for 20, ever since he started working for the city.
“There was an existing parade back then,” Lee said. “It had been handed off through the Chamber of Commerce to (city manager) Kenny Martin. Somehow, the parks department took it over about 15 years ago, and the rest is history.
“There has always been a really good parade here. Sure the routes have changed a little bit.”
Lee said that the parade used to line up at Mt. Juliet First Baptist Church before switching to the ballpark. In recent years, the parade would begin at West Wilson Middle School until the tornado hit in March of 2020.
“The ballpark was gracious enough to have us back,” Lee added.
Lee said that, back then, the parade ran for three miles north on Mt. Juliet Road.
“It was a sight to see,” Lee said. “We averaged somewhere around 75 to 100 floats in the parade each year. That’s why it usually takes two hours.”
Planning such an event takes a lot of time and coordination. Every July, the Christmas parade committee gets together to begin preliminary discussion.
“First thing we come up with is the theme of the parade,” Lee said. “We want to get that out there so people can start planning.”
The director remarked on how the most difficult thing is finding who will be the grand marshals.
“This year, since we’re doing the patriotic theme, we thought, ‘Who would be a better grand marshal than our vets,’ ” Lee said. “After all, we’re going to have veterans from the Korean War all the way up to modern day in this one.
“We’re loaded with veteran heroes. That’s what we try to tell everybody. It’s because of them that we get to do the things we take for granted every day.”
Lee said that he feels like this year’s theme couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The way the country is right now, we just felt like we needed a boost of patriotism, and Mt. Juliet is one of the most patriotic places around,” Lee said. “We just felt like it was time to honor our veterans.”
As Lee explained, the theme is just a guideline, and floats are left up to the designer’s interpretation.
“We try to tell them (that) we want to keep it Christmas,” Lee said. “We don’t want them getting too carried away with the theme. Like this year, we don’t want anyone to mistake it for a Fourth of July parade.”
In his experience, he has seen a lot of “pretty cool” floats.
“The Boy Scouts are always in every year, and they do a really good one,” Lee said. “Our local high schools, FFA programs, they do floats, and they’re awesome.”
Those aren’t the only groups getting in on the Christmas cheer.
“A lot of our local businesses will contribute great floats,” Lee said. “The last couple years, the floats have really had a lot of details and work.”
One Mt. Juliet-based cigar shop’s float really always makes Lee laugh.
“They got two guys sitting in a recliner smoking a cigar watching TV,” Lee said laughing. “They are a lot of fun, and they’re really inventive.”
The parade committee is behind it all. Most are just local business owners, bu they’re very active in it.
Lee spent all week putting the pieces in place for the parade. And he’s not planning on wasting any time for next year’s parade.
“(Next year) 2022 will be our 50th anniversary for the city of Mt. Juliet, so we really want to hit the ground running,” Lee said.
Green Flash students from Friendship Christian School made a trip to the mountains this weekend to personally deliver some Christmas cheer. For some of the children they helped, it makes all the difference.
There’s a little town in Hancock County called Sneedville. It’s not very big. The population is only 1,300.
For the past couple decades, a package of goods has been delivered from Wilson County to Sneedville around the holidays. It’s typically a food box and toiletries, and the packages were prepared and distributed to lower-income families in the area.
Wilson County Commissioner Jerry McFarland, who started the drive, said that helps offset costs for essentials and helps them out around the holidays. It began in 1977, when McFarland was still in the Army.
“There was a big flood, and we went in and rescued people,” McFarland said.
On this trip, he observed the impoverished conditions in which many people in that community lived.
Since that time, it has continued to grow. Last year, 268 families were delivered food boxes and other gift items. McFarland said that Greg Armstrong and his leadership through volunteerism students at FCS really helped it grow.
“Before Greg got involved, we were setting up across the road, putting the word out in the community and doing our thing,” McFarland said. “Well, I knew Greg was doing all these mission trips to Africa and Nicaragua. So, I said, ‘If you want to do some mission work, come with me one weekend.’ ”
That was more than 10 years ago, and Armstrong has been heavily involved ever since. Now, those students accompany him on the ministry trip like the one that took place over the weekend. It’s a unique experience for the 40 that go.
Those food boxes still get distributed, while a number of school-aged children identified to be in need are given 100 “Sneedville Bucks.”
“We work with the school system, which gives it to those kids who might not otherwise have a Christmas,” said Armstrong.
They use the Sneedville Bucks to spend at a makeshift store set up by the FCS students. At the store, the Sneedville children can select from a host of items.
“There are toiletries, socks, and toys,” said Armstrong. “Our kids guide them around so they don’t spend all their money on toys.”
There are about 25 students who serve as guides. The remaining students enlist in other activities. They work the Santa station, as well as going out to deliver the food boxes with first responders.
When the children get to visit the Santa station, they are privy to a memorable Christmas experience.
“They get to sit in Santa’s lap … we have a portable printer, so we can print the picture right then and there,” Armstrong said. “Then, the child will decorate the frame, so the child leaves with something for themselves and a present for their parents on Christmas day.”
Armstrong said that the store experience rewards the shoppers and the guides alike.
“When kids feel like, ‘This is my $100 ... I get to spend it,’ it’s a little bit of ownership,” Armstrong said. “Then, (there’s) the relationship element of it where each one of my students are spending time with one of the kids from Sneedville, and having the chance to pray with them.”
FCS started doing something new for the drive this year.
“Our entire elementary pre-K through fifth grade brought in a gently-used jacket, sweatshirt and a personal toy,” Armstrong said. “Then, we had a big chapel session, and we prayed over it and so that each one of those kids gave their own thing, and gave them that symbolism.”
The Christmas store is something they just do this time of year, but the group makes ministry trips to Sneedville almost monthly.
“We have built relationships with quite a few families, and the most we have ever done was 14 trips in a year,” said Armstrong, which is an increase that he attributes to the COVID pandemic. “Actually, COVID cut down our global ministry, so the Sneedville ministry has expanded.”
Now, the ministry has a traveling Santa, so the group goes out into the neighborhoods and sings Christmas carols.
Word is getting out, and other churches and organizations are contributing.
“Over Thanksgiving, I ran a race with the principal of St. Matthews School in Franklin,” said Armstrong. “He had heard about my ministry, and he said he wanted to get his school involved.”
They took some of the St. Matthews students on the trip for Thanksgiving.
“There are multiple area schools we have been able to partner with,” Armstrong said. “(It’s the) same with churches. It’s neat to see how God connects all those dots.”
Armstrong believes it’s the students who help convey the mission the most.
“I like to share the story of when I first talked to Mr. McFarland, and I saw the passion in his eyes,” Armstrong said. “That drew me to get into the ministry. My students see that passion. Then, they get passionate about it. They go and tell their parents and grandparents about it, and it spreads exponentially.”
None of the mission would be possible without Sally Morris, who serves as the organization’s de facto boots on the ground. She has dedicated her life to helping the people in Hancock County and continues to do that through partnerships like the one with FCS.
Morris is a retired public-health nurse who has worked at the Over Home Mission Clothing Center for the past 45 years.
She said that seeing the smiles and excitement on the faces of the children “warms her heart.”
“The children pick out something, then tear up when they see its ok to get a whole pack of socks,” Morris said.
Morris sees the difference that it makes for the FCS students too.
“Some of the children just have another day out of school, but here they have the opportunity for fellowship, and to be shown the love and spirit of Christmas,” Morris said.
The message is received loud and clear to the folks in Sneedville.
“The children, parents and grandparents can see they are loved, even by total strangers,” Morris said.
The Lebanon City Council will hold a regular-scheduled meeting tonight at city hall.
There will be a public hearing on four items.
The first is to amend the Lebanon Zoning Code to add a principal buildings limitations section. The rule had been in the code until a revision in 2019. The common understanding of a single family lot is the limit of one dwelling unit per lot, not one building per lot. The Lebanon Planning Commission recommended this at its Oct. 26 meeting.
The amendment will add a minimum spacing of buildings on a single zone lot.
The ordinance reads, “In a single family district, not more than one principal building shall be erected on any lot.”
The provision does not apply to schools and churches approved as part of a site plan.
The second item is an amendment to the city’s zoning atlas, by changing 2035 Lebanon Road from low-density residential to commercial neighborhood district. The Lebanon Planning Commission also recommended that for approval in October.
The property owner requested the commercial neighborhood zoning, which the city agreed fits with the commercial mixed use in the future land use plan. The lot is approximately 1.43 acres.
The third item is another amendment to the future land use plan. It changes the naming convention of residential land uses. The new names will be specifically reflective of the number of units per acre that each zone permits. For example, the old suburban low density district will now be called residential two units per acre.
At the other end of the spectrum, high density will now be referred to as residential 16 units per acre.
The last public hearing item is an amendment to designate a local historic district within city limits. The item did not receive the unanimous approval by the planning commission that the other items received, but it was satisfactory with the city council. It already passed a previous reading.
NASHVILLE — All of the people reported missing in Kentucky after tornadoes swept through the state last weekend have been accounted for, Gov. Andy Beshear said on Saturday.
Beshear hailed the report by state emergency management officials and said that he hoped it meant that no additional people in Kentucky would be found dead from the storm.
“How about a piece of good news today,” Beshear said at the beginning of a briefing Saturday on recovery efforts. “Right now, missing persons based on this tornado event are at zero.”
The Democratic governor said that the 78 people killed in what he described as the most destructive tornado event in the state’s history was still “a huge number of Kentuckians to lose.”
“We mourn with their families,” Beshear said.
There was some confusion over the number of deaths, Beshear said, because his staff believes there have been 78 deaths, though state emergency management officials and the state health department put the current count at 75.
Beshear said that officials were working to resolve the discrepancy and added, “I hope they are right,” referring to health and emergency management officials.
In Tennessee, meanwhile, officials have confirmed that a fifth person in that state died from storms that struck during the same weather system.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says that the additional death occurred in Lake County, where two other storm deaths also occurred. The remaining fatalities were in Obion and Shelby counties, the agency said.
At least 92 people have been confirmed dead across multiple states after more than 40 tornadoes pummeled a wide area on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11.
In Kentucky, Beshear said that help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been extended to six additional counties and that relief benefits provided for funeral expenses have been increased to $10,000.
“They shouldn’t have to have a cheap funeral for their loved one,” Beshear said. “That’s not right.”
Beshear said that some homes remain without power or under boil-water advisories and that 944 Kentuckians have been given shelter in hotels or state parks.
He also said that applications were being accepted in 14 Kentucky counties for disaster unemployment assistance for those whose jobs were displaced by the storms.
People in need of other assistance can go to disasterassistance.gov, download the FEMA app or call 1-800-621-3362.