LURAY — Several rural fire district trucks made their way down Fairview Avenue, sirens blaring.
At first, 4-year-old Trinity Harp clearly was unsure how close she wanted to get — but then she realized the firefighters had plenty of candy and were wanting to share.
She shyly waved at the firefighters, then joined other children scooping up candy at the 52nd annual Luray Friendship Day parade Sunday afternoon.
“Mommy, I got some,” a triumphant Harp hollered to her mother, Bessie, at the end of the parade, which featured emergency vehicles, local businesses, school cheerleaders and vintage trucks.
“I really love candy,” she added. “I even got chocolate.”
In this Russell County community of less than 200 people, the annual Labor Day weekend celebration long has been one of the year’s highlights. Local and area residents come for the day’s activities, natives often return home for the celebration, and family reunions are planned in conjunction with Friendship Day.
Luray’s city park was crowded Sunday afternoon. There was an ice cream social, sidewalk chalk painting contest, beer garden, bounce houses for the children and face painting. The morning had kicked off with a color run and community church service at the park.
A church just down the street offered indoor crafts and activities for kids — a welcome break from the heat — and there also was laser tag and a tractor pull, followed by a barbecue and dance with live music in the evening. Organizers pride themselves on providing free entertainment for local children.
But not so long ago, residents weren’t sure they would be able to carry on the long-standing tradition. It isn’t easy to plan such a large event, and as the town grows smaller, there are fewer people to take it on.
Instead of letting that happen, several residents stepped up to help — determined to not only save the tradition, but make it stronger than ever. This year’s celebration featured several new additions, including a cake walk.
“We thought that maybe we were going to lose it,” said Tammy Cline, chairperson of this year’s planning committee. “And then last year, we revamped the committee and got some new faces.”
It’s more than just a fun day of activities. It’s something that brings the town together, she said, noting many in the community and surrounding area assist with labor or donations.
“It takes a lot of the community to come,” Cline said. “We’re trying to keep building it up.”
Each year, volunteers choose a “community quote” for the back of their Friendship Day T-shirts. This year’s slogan was a fitting remark from Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Admission was free to the day’s activities, and proceeds from refreshments and shirts will benefit efforts to improve the city park, Cline said.
Another new addition was reviving the traditional horseshoe tournament, which had been a staple of the event for many years but hadn’t been done more recently. The Luray Fire District sponsored the event, which drew eight teams despite little advertising, said Ben Gruver, the district’s secretary/treasurer.
Horseshoes flew through the air as the round-robin tournament got underway Sunday afternoon; there are several pits in the town park.
“There’s a lot of people who still play. We’ve got a couple guys here in town that will come play in the evening,” Gruver said. “We’re trying to make Friendship Day better again. There were years where it was pretty dull around here, so we’re just trying to do a little better now.”