By Dawn Hatfield
GREENVILLE — The winter holiday season has officially begun in Greenville, Ohio. With the crisp fall weather came the clopping of horse hooves down South Broadway Saturday evening. The long-anticipated annual Hometown Holiday Horse Parade was back in full gallop, well, maybe more of a trot, after three long years! Equestrians and spectators excitedly filled the streets of Downtown Greenville, and even the horses seemed responsive to the buzz of excitement in the air. Spotty rain showers had cleared and the lingering sting of cold in the air was overpowered by winter coats, hats, gloves, and even blankets. No one was going to miss this celebration.
The parade began at 7 p.m. and ran for nearly an hour as more than 90 lighted horse-drawn carriages, hitches, and riders illuminated downtown. Horse teams descended on the community from across Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky to entertain the estimated 8,000-plus spectators gathered in Greenville from across Darke County and beyond.
Currently in its 18th year, the Hometown Holiday Horse Parade was selected as the “Best of Ohio” parade by the readers of “Ohio Magazine” for 2019. Main Street Greenville’s event chairperson, Diana Stebbins, coordinated this activities-packed family event. Unfortunately, due first to weather conditions in 2019 and then to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the parade had been canceled for two consecutive holiday seasons. However, this year brought back the tradition in a big way. Both Romer’s Catering and Sure Shot Tap House both offered delicious (reservation/ticket-required) buffets great for fueling up for all the after-hours shopping available in more than 40 downtown establishments. Free pony rides for children and free hot cocoa for everyone were two favorites of event-goers. Live music was offered in front of the Darke County Courthouse as well as at the Circle Fountain.
The grand marshals of this year’s parade were Steve Baker, of WHIO-TV, and Betty Birt, former Main Street Greenville Board secretary. The two shared the honor as co-grand marshals due to the cancellation of previous parades. They were carried from Martin Street up South Broadway to the Circle and back by a single-horse carriage shining brightly with twinkling lights.
Although not a Darke County resident, Baker was honored with the distinction of grand marshal because of his dedication to covering news stories and events in Greenville and Darke County. According to a 2020 press release, Baker started his career in broadcasting after a stint in the Navy and worked at WPTW in Piqua and also as a stringer for Channel 2 before joining WHIO-TV in 1980. Chairperson Stebbins explained Baker’s connection to the Hometown Holiday Horse Parade. In the first years, the parade was fortunate to draw 1,000 to 2,000 spectators, but after Baker did a story on the event, it grew to around 10,000 visitors. Baker said of Greenville and its parade to WHIO.com, “Just a great parade, a great parade. A neat city, a neat county. I’m all excited about it and so is my wife.”
Additional grand marshal, Betty Birt, graduated from Siena Heights University in Michigan in 1971 and is a self-described “transplant” who married Rick Birt from Greenville that November. Betty worked at Brethren Retirement Community and first began volunteering for Main Street Greenville under the leadership of Amber Schmerge. She worked closely with both Amber and Deanna York, the previous executive director of the Darke County Visitors Bureau. Betty collaborated with Deanna to bring GOBA (Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure) to Greenville and became a member of the board in 2013, serving as board secretary beginning in 2015.
A 2019 press release says it best, “Betty Birt was an easy choice to serve as a Main Street Greenville Board Member,” said previous director Amber Garrett. “Her positive attitude, willingness to volunteer, and her continuous support of downtown Greenville were all beneficial to the organization over the years. Betty has been involved with numerous projects, programs, and events including the free pony rides during the Hometown Holiday Horse Parade.”
When asked about her favorite part of downtown Greenville, Betty touched on the holidays, “I love the Horse Parade and all of the lights and the horses prancing down the street and all of the good smells from the street vendors! I love Christmastime and seeing the beautiful windows and the Circle and the street lights decorated and hearing the Christmas music,” but she explained it is “too hard to pick a favorite—there is just too much good stuff going on.”
The enchanting night concluded with the rejuvenated tradition of a community Christmas tree lighting at Annie Oakley Memorial Park, which is anticipated to become an annual event once more.
Mayor Steve Willman addressed the community just before Santa turned on the lights, “Although it is spectacular on its own, it’s what [this tree] represents that makes it special. I’m honored to be a small part of dedicating this tree to Barbara Fee as a tribute to her life… Because she loved to decorate and celebrate Christmas, the tree is donated by her husband Hershel Fee and the Lighthouse Christian Center. . .”
In addition to pastoring the Lighthouse Christian Center for decades alongside husband, Hershel, Barbara chaired the community Christmas dinner for 38 years and served as president of the Darke County Republican Women’s Club as well as Chaplain for the organization. She was also elected Treasurer of the City of Greenville in 2005 and served in that position for 11 years until her retirement. Barbara was the recipient of many local and regional awards. She was a strong leader and an involved presence in the community whom has been missed since her passing in November 2020.
Mayor Willman continued, “Tonight, this Christmas tree is a symbol of new life for Barbara and for us, a beginning of many memories we will make tonight as we did in the past.”
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.