Liberty Day celebrates town’s patriotism

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan urged the whole nation to celebrate the unveiling of the refurbished Statue of Liberty with patriotic ceremonies. Three men took that call and birthed Liberty Day. Jim Strickland, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mike Hill, and Olin Higgs, Minister of Music of the First Baptist Church of Columbiana planned the one-day event that ended with a Community Choir singing patriotic music on the courthouse steps followed by fireworks in the courthouse parking lot.

“Only one small catastrophe happened that night,” Strickland said. “One of the sparks from a firework landed on Mayor Buck Falkner’s new Cadillac and burned it.”

At the conclusion of the highly successful, well attended event, the men said, “Let’s do it again next year.”

In 1987, Liberty Day had its first parade, and 23 years later, Liberty Day has grown to a two-day celebration ending with “FIre in the Sky” at SCHS Football Stadium.

Liberty Day this year is June 26-27. Friday night begins at 6 p.m. with Music on Main Street and a Children’s Carnival on Summer Classic Way. Saturday morning the bands begin playing at 9 a.m. along with vendors, arts and crafts, food, a classic cars “Cruise In,” children’s carnival, Hall of Memories at the First Baptist Church, Military displays and Miss Alabama 2009 Liz Cochran and Miss Shelby County 2009 Jessica Andrews signing autographs from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in front of Donald Real Estate on E. College. The Music on Main will end at 3 p.m. and the Liberty Day Parade begins at 3:30 pm.

Leading the parade will be a police car followed by the pride of Columbiana’s Fire Department, the bright, red Engine 45, full of volunteer firefighters throwing out candy with other fire trucks and rescue vehicles following. Our military and veterans are a huge part of the parade, and all invited to march. The National Guard will display a Armored Hum V and five-ton wrecker. Participants will also include beauty queens, churches, the 4-H Goat Club, cowboys, civic clubs, Shelby County High School Band and a Revolutionary War Reenactment Unit (Circa 1775-1783).

One of the highlights is the Columbiana Culture Club kicking off their year-long 100th Anniversary Celebration with members dressed in 100 years of different fashions. Beverly Hall (1910-1920), Linda Wren (1940-1960), Judy Quick, Karen Sweeney, and Mary McNeillie (1960-1980) will ride on a float with a birthday cake celebrating 100 years. Councilwoman Ouida Mayfield (1920-1940) will ride in a 1939 pickup truck, and Carolyn Knowles (1950) will ride in a 1950s auto.

This year’s Grand Marshal is Harry Atchison, a Columbiana native son born July 5, 1926, in Dr. Chandler’s home on North Main (where the new addition to Columbiana United Methodist stands today) to Bonnie Bearden Atchison and William Franklin Atkinson.

Atchison grew up in the home he lives in now at 311 North Main with his wife, Bonnie, a retired drama teacher from Shelby County High School and Curator of the George Washington Museum.

After attending Columbiana schools, Atchison joined the Navy at age 17 during WWII and served on a LST boat. After his service he joined the L&N Railroad and worked with the coal fire locomotives till his retirement.

The Atchisons moved back to Columbiana in 1977. Mr. A. A. Lauderdale lived in the Atchison home on North Main and wanted it to go back to the original family. After his death, the Atchison’s moved into Harry’s childhood home in 1984.

“Harry is an avid Christian, a man of strong faith, “ said Bonnie.

Atchison is president of the Charles Knowles Senior Men’s Class at First Baptist, which Bonnie describes as the last class you attend before you go to heaven. Whatever Bonnie has been involved in, Harry was there as her help mate, building sets for plays, helping set up art shows, and doing for the community in many ways.

“Harry Atchison is one of Columbiana’s treasures, “ said Mayor Alan Lowe.

Atchison has been in every Liberty Day Parade since its inception. He became Uncle Sam approximately nine years ago after the death of the first Uncle Sam, Erskine Bentley. Uncle Sam riding a tractor has been one of the highlights of the parade for years. This year, the tractor will be driven by his cousin, Richard Atchison, and pulling a trailer filled with all of Atchison’s family, including wife Bonnie dressed as Martha Washington.

The Atchisons have two married sons: Randy and Christine Atchison, Mike and Judy Mason. Riding in the parade with Atchison will be four grandchildren: Lisa Mason Gay, Kendall Mason, Creighton Mason and Wendy Atchison Calvert; and five great-grandchildren Eli and Josh Calvert; Mason Gay; Riley Mason and Story Mason.

Liberty Day will conclude at Shelby County High School Football Stadium at 7 p.m. Bring your blanket and picnic and enjoy Shinbone Ridge Bluegrass.