Russell Makes a Great Home for the Holidays

Kathy Clayton

The Ashland Beacon


   Bringing the feel of a small-town Christmas to Russell, the Hometown Holiday event offered last week was deemed a success by city leaders.

   “It’s been a really good event,” said out-going Mayor Bill Hopkins, as the parade began. “Our city employees have worked hard all day, all week really, to help make this a successful event. And I think our business owners are pleased with how it’s turned out.”

   Earlier in the day, business owners throughout the downtown area greeted customers with cookies and warm drinks during the chilly day. Many played Christmas music to greet folks as they entered.

   The event kicked off with a 5K run early in the day. Vendors set up shop in the old depot building at the top of Ferry Street. The Grinch, being unusually friendly, sat on a bench in the depot, watching as customers viewed products and spoke to the vendors. The Greenup County Public Library’s bookmobile set up outside the depot where Mrs. Claus made an appearance to read holiday-themed stories to children. Then Santa himself pulled up in a sleigh and met with children inside the depot for pictures and to listen to their Christmas wish lists.

   Further downtown near the fire station at the Antique Junction, owner Sharon Henry relaxed in an armchair with her cat on her lap during a lull in foot traffic. “I think we’ve had quite a few more customers,” she said, as someone brought in a load of music albums to be sold in the store. “I think this event is great for our stores in downtown, and for customers.”

   Approaching Fat Boys restaurant, visitors could hear the sounds of Christmas music from the street. The restaurant, in the middle of the afternoon, was at half-capacity.

   As the parade got underway, families lined the streets to watch the floats, the Russell High School Marching Band, honor guard, and other mainstays of parades in small-town America. Also making an appearance in the parade was Russell royalty, Coach Ivan McGlone, former RHS football coach who led the Red Devils to two state championships during his tenure, and is still a welcome presence at any event.

   Inside the Senior Citizen Center, which has become a hub for social activity in Russell, volunteers including Mayor Hopkins’ wife Ruth, set up tables and prepared for the chili supper following the parade, free to anyone wishing to come inside and warm up with good food and friendly faces.

   “We expected a big crowd, so we moved the chili dinner down here instead of the fire station,” said the mayor. “We’re going to have a couple of presentations – recognize the council members and Sue Dowdy (Grand Marshal of the parade). You know, she’s put a lot of work into this for many years.” Hopkins also said he thinks the change of involving the town in an all-day Christmas celebration is a good idea and he hopes it continues. “Not to compare it to past parades, but it used to be completely dark when the parade started. Now it’s just dusk and I think that’s working out.”

   Newly-elected Mayor Ron Simpson also praised the new event. “I just think it has a good hometown feel about it,” he said of the Hometown Holidays. “It’s a good place to come see your friends and neighbors, and I hope to see it continue and grow. It started as a fundraising idea for the Russell Orchestra for their trip to perform at Disney World.”

   The orchestra performed a concert at the Life Song church following the chili dinner, and proceeds from the vendor fees went to fund the trip.

   Business owner Bill Murrey, standing in the middle of the street before the parade got started, said he was happy with the event and is looking forward to it next year. “Sherry (his wife) served cookies and wassail in the shop. We had pretty good foot traffic in the store today. And people really seemed to be enjoying themselves. I think it’s the start of good things.”