Every year on Labor Day, Mayor Stan Shealy dresses up as a different character and rides through town on a float, waving to all the visitors gathered along the tree-lined streets of Chapin.
For Shealy, mayor for 31 years, the end-of-summer festival provides an opportunity to show off his hometown pride.
“You never know what he’s going to be,” said Judy Swygert, sitting with her husband, John, in the shade of a pine tree on East Boundary Street at mid-morning Monday.
The event, with a new theme each year, is known for its top-notch parade. And Shealy’s character always relates to the theme.
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This year, it was “Chapin Rocks,” inspired by the passing of American Bandstand host Dick Clark.
Girls in poodle skirts walked in the parade. Kids on floats wore tie-dye.
And Shealy showed up as one of the Beatles from the 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
He wore a shiny blue band uniform with gold trim.
A black shaggy wig covered his graying hair.
He flashed the peace sign as he passed.
“I got his picture,” said Billy Cannon, his Yorkie in his lap and his camera at the ready.
Each year, the Labor Day committee meets in May or June to start tossing around ideas for the festival. As town clerk Adrienne Thompson put it, Chapin doesn’t have okra or peanuts, so the theme changes every year.
Once the group settles on an idea, they turn their creative energies to Shealy’s character – and it needs to be someone instantly recognizable.
“Sgt. Pepper” was his 13th character.
He’s been Captain America, Snidely Whiplash and Willie Wonka. He’s portrayed Popeye, Gilligan and (his personal favorite) Mr. Rogers.
It started the year the mayor was assigned to ride in a black convertible and the driver goaded him into dressing the part, as Batman.
“I didn’t intend it to be a costume every year,” said Shealy, 65, and a public information officer at the highway department. “But after Batman – after taking that dare – everybody said, ‘What are you going to be this year?’ And one thing led to another.”
Every Labor Day, the town of 1,400 people plays host to 20,000 folks at a community event where cheerleaders on floats toss candy into the crowd, praise singers proclaim their love of God and politicians hand out stickers.
“It’s good to get people together to celebrate living in a small-town atmosphere,” the mayor said.
Marty Milam sat across the street from Mt. Horeb Lutheran Church, watching the parade with her three grandchildren.
There are few Labor Days she’s spent anywhere else: She always runs into favorite students and their parents from her days as a teacher at Chapin Elementary.
“Stan, he’s a trip,” Milam said as the mayor’s float continued down the street.
Thompson, who works at City Hall, said Shealy is willing to do whatever it takes to make the event a success.
“He is a ham, and he’s dedicated to the community,” she said.
“We’ve drawn moustaches on him. Put him in tights. And he just really goes along with it.”
Still, Shealy said, he does have his limits. “I’m never going as Prince Harry.”