09/17/13 — O'Berry - Cherry Christmas parade cancelled

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O'Berry - Cherry Christmas parade cancelled

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 17, 2013 1:46 PM

There will be no Cherry/O'Berry Christmas parade this year, although officials at O'Berry plan to continue the tradition on that campus.

Recent changes to DOT guidelines for road closures and liability requirements have prompted organizers to cancel the historic joint parade this week.

The changes were introduced in April, said Todd Lewis, assistant division traffic engineer with the Wilson office of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

"People that requested events in the past, we sent out the new form and guidelines to all those, Cherry Hospital included," he said. "Anybody that's having an event that requires closing a road would need to submit that form to us."

The liability form basically releases the DOT from any responsibility, Lewis said.

"If something were to happen, we're not sponsoring the event," he said. "We're just allowing closure of the road. (They're) accepting responsibility for the event.

"The other part is obtaining liability insurance. A lot of the towns have a commercial policy that they use."

The annual local event has had a long run. In 2007, O'Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center announced its holiday parade would return after a nearly 25-year absence. Then-director Frank Farrell said at the time that the last parade he recalled at the center had been in 1979 or 1980.

Penny Withrow, volunteer services coordinator at Cherry, was unable to pinpoint when the parade actually started but noted that Cherry had participated in 1983 and in 1995 held its first "mini" parade, which continued until 2006. The joint effort resumed in 2007 and had continued each year since.

The layout at O'Berry has afforded the center the capability of having a parade contained on the grounds. It gets trickier when there is a combined effort and the parade route travels between the two facilities.

"We have always had to close the main road," said Tanya Rollins, special services director. "If we didn't to close any main roads, but because we have to come down Old Smithfield Road, we would have to follow their (DOT) new guidelines."

Luckey Welsh, director at Cherry Hospital, confirmed the cancellation last week.

"We have made the decision to no longer hold the O'Berry/Cherry Christmas Parade," he said.

He speculated that restrictions dictating that all participants sign a waiver might have been prompted by national news stories about incidents at other parades where participants were injured or killed.

Regardless, he said, the fact that the state is in the process of building a new Cherry Hospital down the road -- experiencing construction delays but expected to be completed by next spring -- means it will be located farther from O'Berry, creating even more barriers to getting a road closure permit from the city.

O'Berry Director Deborah Exum said Friday the change would not deter the center's plans for their in-house event.

"We have always traditionally held the Christmas parade on campus for individuals that live here," she said. "We started it back with Cherry Hospital (jointly) when we had our 50th anniversary.

"This year we're going to continue the Christmas parade with the Goldwings (motorcycle club) on Saturday, Dec. 7."

A time will be announced but it has historically been a morning parade, she said.

"We're going to be looking forward to getting support from local businesses and schools that have always contributed to make our parade a success," she said. "This is one of our highlights for the individuals."

Welsh said that in spite of the cancellation of the parade, Cherry will provide ways for its staff and patients to celebrate the holidays.

"We're going to do some stuff there at Cherry," Welsh said. "We're going to miss the parade."

"It's a wonderful thing and I think the people in the community anticipated it, but we're going to make up for it another way."

On average, the parade drew about 75 to 100 entries each year, with an estimated total of over a thousand participants over the years, Mrs. Withrow said.

Plans are to send letters out to participants alerting them to the change, Welsh said.

Mrs. Withrow said Cherry staff is also making alternate plans for the season, including a holiday bazaar and the Holly Ball for patients.