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Christmas parade’s grand marshals share common bond

Most baseball fans are familiar with the concept of “bullpen by committee,” in which the duties of one relief pitcher are shared among a number of teammates.

This year, “grand marshal by committee” will become a reality for the Albemarle Christmas Parade Saturday, as 12 young men and women will share honors as chief dignitaries of the event.

Unusual though it may be, the model of multiple grand marshals is neither the most unique nor compelling feature of the parade — that item is the common bond (and common blessing) shared by those selected for the honor.

The 12 marshals, ranging in age from 2 to 15, are connected by the fact that all are survivors of cancer diagnosed in infancy, childhood or adolescence.

The notion of bringing the 12 together for recognition began three months ago, when Albemarle City Council passed a proclamation designating September as “Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month,” Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall, said.

At the time of the proclamation, Hall was quick to add that Albemarle resident Donna Reed was the key player in not only bringing about the proclamation, but in working to increase awareness of pediatric cancer in and around Stanly County.

“All 12 of our grand marshals either live in Stanly County or have close relatives here,” said Reed, who brought the idea to Hall.

Hall, a member of the city’s special events committee, which works directly with the parade, took the idea to the committee.

Reed, who began volunteering with pediatric cancer patients in 2016, and whose college-age nephew was diagnosed with the disease a year later, has made awareness and fundraising for pediatric cancer research a personal mission.

“This is one way we can help make people aware,” she said, noting ongoing projects such as a Facebook group for parents and patients, and plans for a 5K run-walk fundraiser in September 2020.

“These 12 are just the ones we know about in and around Stanly County,” said Reed, “and there may be more. A pediatric cancer diagnosis is a blow not only to the young patients, but to the entire family, and we want to help connect families that are affected.”

The 12 survivors serving as grand marshals for the Albemarle Christmas Parade are:

• Brinn Andrew — Two-year old Brinn was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma, but through ongoing treatment she is cancer-free. Her parents are Jason and Kellie Andrew.

• Carter Blake — Carter is 2 years old and is in remission from trilateral retinoblastoma. His parents are Bryan and Ashley Blake.

• Merritt Plummer — Merritt is in treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma. She is the 2-year-old daughter of Aaron and Kayla Plummer, and the niece of Lynn Plummer.

• Joel Gardner — Four-year-old Joel is cancer-free following treatment for juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia. His parents are Matthew Gardner and Hayley Helms, and his grandmother is Tyra Gardner.

• Max Lariviere — After being diagnosed with neuroblastoma, 4-year-old Max is cancer-free, but continues in treatment. His parents are Roger and Dianna Lariviere.

• Tate Whitley — Tate is the 6-year-old son of Roger and Amy Whitley. He is in remission following treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

• Stella Senter — Six-year-old Stella is the daughter of Jim and Mary Senter, and is a five-year survivor of retinoblastoma.

• Corbin Sikes — Currently cancer-free after treatment, Corbin was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2016. He is 6 years old and is the son of Melinda and Adam Sellers and Andrew Sikes.

• NaTiya James — Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2016, NaTiya is cancer-free following treatment. She is the 7-year-old daughter of Alvis and Trasha James and the granddaughter of Brenda Stanback.

• Madison McRae — Madison is the 12-year-old daughter of Keith and Renee McRae. She is stable after being diagnosed with anaplastic ganglioglioma.

• Stella Griffin — In remission after more than two years of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, 15-year-old Stella is the daughter of Jeremy and Mandy Griffin.

• Kassandra Swink — Currently in treatment for LCH Disease, Kassandra is the daughter of Jeff and Kristine Swink.

The Albemarle Christmas Parade is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday in downtown Albemarle.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.