A little less than two decades ago, before the explosion of development around I-40 and N.C. 42, the Cleveland area’s first July 4 celebration offered a chance to celebrate somewhere close.
Now Cleveland’s Independence Day celebration runs all day and offers a wide array of activities that include a parade, music, a pick-up ballgame and fireworks. It’s expected to draw about 1,500 people this year.
Johnston County Commissioner Cookie Pope said she and Elgie Wells led the effort to put together the first one in 1996. The rural community had a parade with local farm tractors, she said.
“I went to a little parade at Archer Lodge. I wondered, why was I going to a parade here when we can have one in our own backyard,” Pope said. “It started just to build civic pride.”
The grand marshals this year are Denton and Jane Lee, a couple who have lived in Cleveland since 1974 and were committee members for the celebration early in its existence.
Denton Lee, a Smithfield native, has worked in banking for 42 years and is an executive vice president for First Citizens Bank. Jane Lee, who’s from Four Oaks, is the president of that community’s Chamber of Commerce. She raises medical research funds at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center, and serves on the Angel Fund Committee at Johnston Health. Both are members of Oakland Presbyterian Church.
The parade starts behind Cleveland Fire Station at 10 a.m., after a breakfast with youth at Oakland Church that runs from 7-9 a.m. Booth set-up starts at 8 a.m. The opening ceremonies begin around 10:45 a.m. and lead into games, pony rides, food and other entertainment. The Community Walk-on Ball Game starts at 1 p.m.
Seaside Band goes on at 7 p.m., setting the stage for fireworks that begin around 9:15 p.m.