GREENFIELD — Kris Spicer remembers standing in downtown Greenfield, watching her own children walk with flowers in hand toward the courthouse some 20 years ago.
Spicer, a lifelong Greenfield resident, recalled the memory Friday as she prepared to watch her three grandchildren — Leo, 6, Livvy, 2, and Zoe, 4 months, participate in the beloved Hancock County tradition.
This time, she’d walk down Main Street alongside her little flower bearers.
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Spicer, her grandchildren and their mom, Samantha Allison, were among the hundreds of local youngsters and families who strolled through downtown Greenfield Friday to place flowers at the foot of the James Whitcomb Riley statue staged in front of the Hancock County Courthouse on U.S. 40.
The parade is a longstanding tradition dating back to at least the 1940s and a cornerstone of the annual Riley Festival, which kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday.
For years, however, Greenfield-Central elementary students and band members represented the majority of parade participants. Every year, the school district bused second- and third-graders to the parade.
When their school calendar landed them on fall break during the annual event this year, organizers looked to other schools and children organizations to carry on the tradition. For the first time in recent memory, children of all ages and their families were invited to participate.
Going forward, the new tradition will stand, organizers say, a move they hope brings more children to the annual event every year.
Allison, who walked the same route as a Greenfield student, was excited to bring her children out for the family-friendly event, happy to be participating with them instead of watching from the sidelines.
They picked flowers from Grandma’s backyard garden and even armed the youngest family member, Zoe, with a bouquet.
Organizers were delighted to see about 500 county children participate, said organizer Terry Beagle.
Seventy kids and their families signed up to participate in the event, said Beagle.
They joined students from Southern Hancock, Eastern Hancock and St. Michael schools and the Alpha and Omega daycare at Trinity Park United Methodist Church.
This year was the first time students from Eastern Hancock and Southern Hancock participated in the event.
Jackson Kamp, a fourth-grader at Sugar Creek Elementary School, was excited to see the James Whicomb Riley Statue for the first time. The students also visited the Hancock County Courthouse, which he’s never seen.
Armed with a large and small bouquet of flowers and bearing a red T-shirt inscribed with the words #NewPalProud, Jackson said he was eager to start marching.
Throughout the week, fourth-graders at Southern Hancock elementary schools learned about poetry and Riley, the famous Hoosier poet and the parade and festival’s namesake, to prepare for the parade, said teacher Randall Stant.
“It teaches them there are significant Hancock County heroes nearby,” Stant said. “It makes history fun.”
Debbie Jeffries, an assistant at the Alpha and Omega daycare, said her students also spent the week learning about the beloved Hoosier poet.
On Friday, students came to daycare prepared; they wore matching T-shirts and brought their own flowers to give to the Riley Festival Queen’s court and Mayor Chuck Fewell.
The daycare is open during Greenfield-Central’s fall break, so many of the students who would have participated in the parade had school been in session still had the opportunity to join in the fun, she said.
“Why shouldn’t they get to walk on a beautiful day like this,” Jeffries said. “We didn’t want them to miss out on this opportunity.”
After all the children handed off their flowers and paraded through the courthouse, Beagle stopped and smiled, months of planning a new tradition had paid off.
“It went beautifully,” she said.
The Riley Festival runs through 5 p.m. Sunday. Here are some upcoming events.
7:30 a.m.: Mayor’s breakfast at Trinity Park United Methodist Church
9 a.m.: Riley 5k and 10k Run and Walk at the Pennsy Trail, 210 S. Center St.
9 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Craft booths and Riley Fun Zone open
9 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Helicopter rides at Riley Park
9 a.m. to 7 p.m.: The Living History Camp at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, 620 N. Apple St.
11 a.m.: Riley Festival parade
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.: Hancock County 4-H Soup Bowl at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, 620 N. Apple St.
Noon to 5 p.m.: Antique tractor show at Riley Park
Noon to 9 p.m.: Free entertainment at the Greenfield Banking Co. tent at South Street and State Street and at the courthouse plaza gazebo
2 p.m.: Unveiling of the new Riley statue in front of the Riley Old Home, 250 W. Main St.
3 p.m.: Poets at the Podium at the Greenfield Banking Co. tent
8:30 p.m.: Laser light show
9 p.m.: Festival closes
9 a.m. Non-denominational church service at Greenfield Christian Church, 23 N. East St.
9 a.m. to noon: The Living History Camp at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, 620 N. Apple St.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Craft booths and Riley Fun Zone open
11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Helicopter rides at Riley Park
Noon to 4 p.m.: Free entertainment at the Greenfield Banking Co. tent and courthouse plaza gazebo
2 p.m.: Mr. Riley’s Birthday Party in the garden of the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home, 250 W. Main St.
2:30 p.m.: Riley Festival awards in the Greenfield Banking Co. tent
5 p.m.: Riley Festival closes