Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Democrat Arik Bjorn and American Party candidate Eddie McCain were not in the Chapin Labor Day parade. Both candidates were in the parade. They are challenging Republican incumbent Joe Wilson in the 2nd Congressional District. Also, the town of Chapin has 1,800 residents, not 18,000.
Nikki Lowder of Irmo has brought her 3-year-old daughter, Gracie, to the Chapin Labor Day Parade each year since Gracie was born.
“It’s a family tradition now,” Nikki said as the two sat along bustling Chapin Road on Monday, dressed up in red, white and blue, waving American flags and sporting patriotic sunglasses. “It’ a great way to celebrate Labor Day.”
Nikki and Gracie were two of an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people who crowded the Lexington County town of 1,800 residents. The three-day Labor Day Festival, which was celebrating its 37th year, marks the end of summer in the Midlands, and the parade is a slice of America, a reunion for town residents and a magnet for politicians.
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“This is our end-of-summer party,” said organizer Karen Owens, who also serves as the town’s director of communications and economic development. “It’s quintessential Americana. And it’s all about family fun.”
This year’s Grand Marshal was former S.C. Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Barber. Barber lost a leg in Afghanistan in the 2012 suicide bomber attack that killed three South Carolina soldiers – 1st Lt. Ryan Davis Rawl, 30, of Lexington; Spc. John David Meador II, 36, of Columbia; and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bradford Thomas, 30, of Easley – and wounded five others.
“I don’t really like to be the center of attention,” Barber said, “but it was fun.”
The Homes for Our Troops organization is building a house in Chapin for Barber; his wife, Heather; and their three children. They currently live near Harbison State Forest. “I chose Chapin because I just really like the area, the schools and the people,” he said.
The 0.8-mile parade route along Chapin Road this year was lined by new development and construction sites. The town near Lake Murray is undergoing a growth spurt with a new Sonic drive-in restaurant going up and a shopping center anchored by a 46,000-square-foot Publix grocery store about to open.
“It’s one of the biggest developments we’ve had in years,” Owens said. “We’re very excited.”
A promotional Publix cloth grocery bag became a candy harvester in the hands of 16-year-old Preston Troyer of Columbia. One of the hallmarks of the parade is the constant shower of sweet stuff thrown from the floats and by dignitaries.
Troyer, who attends Ben Lippen High School, had his pitch down. “I just yell, ‘Give me candy or give me death!’” he said. “They usually give me candy.”
In addition to floats, marching bands, cloggers and candy flingers, the 100-entry parade was well-stocked with politicians, most of them Republicans. They included S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, who is running for re-election against two opponents – Democrat Arik Bjorn and American Party candidate Eddie McCain, who also were in the parade.
Also marching in the parade were state Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, and state Rep. Nathan Ballantine, R-Richland, neither of whom have opposition this year, and state Rep. Walt McLeod, a long-serving Democrat from Newberry County who is not seeking re-election.
Jim Belk, 76, of White Rock, was perched atop a couple of concrete blocks to eyeball the politicians over the heads of spectators jammed at the festival’s center on Lexington Avenue.
“It’s good to put a face with a name,” he said. “And if they aren’t here, they aren’t running.”