Tippin Big Hit With Area Guardsmen
Monday, 18 August 2003
By DAVE PAYNE, SR
PARKERSBURG - Sgt. 1st Class Michael Scully of the West Virginia National Guard walks up Market Street Sunday morning and a strange man wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap approaches him.
The click, click of the man's cowboy boots striking the Market Street sidewalk echoed off of the Smith Building.
"I just want to thank you for all you are doing for our great country," the man said as he reached out a muscular arm to shake Scully's hand.
"That handshake was rock-solid," Scully later recalled. Little did he know at the time that the stone grip belonged to country-music singer Aaron Tippin, who later closed the Parkersburg Homecoming in front of a crowd of thousands.
A few hours later, Scully went to Tippin's bus to give the singer a patch making Tippin an honorary member of Scully's unit, the Wheeling-based 1/137th Assault Helicopter Battalion, known as the Pale Riders. It was Scully's way of thanking Tippin for his strong support of soldiers and his performances for military personnel overseas. The singer came out to greet Scully.
"Nice to see you again. I saw you earlier today," Tippin said. Scully was shocked.
"I had know idea who you were," Scully told him.
"That's just the way I am," Tippin replied.
Tippin also took the time to pay a surprise visit to guardsmen who showed off some of their vehicles and a UH1H "Heuey" helicopter at the homecoming. His message to the 15 guardsmen was the same: "Thank y'all for serving our great country."
"I put him up there with Bob Hope. We think that much of him for his support for the military. You've got to admire the man for going overseas. Not many will do that anymore," said 1st Sgt. Richard Vanhoose.
Tippin posed for a picture with the 15 men. A short while later, the guardsmen had the film developed and Tippin autographed a photo for each of the men, said SSG Donald Miller.
"That was mighty nice of him. Not too many would do that," Miller said.
While singing his hit "Workingman's Ph.D.," Tippin amazed the crowd by quickly assembling a bicycle on stage, which he donated for the Toys for Tots program.
"He is a really down-to-earth fellow," Scully said.
Tippin was the largest draw for a weekend of entertainment, said George Kellenberger, president of the Parkersburg Homecoming Board of Directors. Kellenberger estimated that about 165,000 people attending the homecoming this year.
Rain put a damper on attendance Friday, but attendance was strong Saturday and Sunday, despite sweltering heat that kept those attending sweating. Local organizations and businesses gave away thousands of paper fans to those attending.
"The rain hurt us some, but attendance improved. We've really been pleased with the crowds. The heat didn't hurt us at all," Kellenberger said.
"I'm burning up, but I wouldn't miss this for the world," said Neil Diamond impersonator Theron Denson of Charleston. Denson, who calls himself "the Black Diamond," performed at the homecoming Saturday. Theron has appeared on the "Jimmy Kimmel Show" and has been approached by "Oprah" producers for an appearance there, Denson said.
"Once those lights hit me, I was drenched," Denson said.
After the performance, Ed Alfred, a St. Joseph's Hospital paramedic, gave the sweat-soaked Denson a message: "The Supremes want to meet you." But the Sounds of the Supremes, a group including former Supreme's member Kaaren Ragland, whom Denson considers an idol, would have to wait while Denson signed autographs for, smiled to and shook hands with a group of children.
"I couldn't believe it. They (Sounds of the Supremes) said when they heard me singing that they just had to meet me. I am so honored," Denson said of his meeting with the group.
The Sounds of the Supremes followed Denson's performance Saturday.
"It's so nice to have them come here. I grew up with Diana Ross and the Supremes. They really are supreme," said Parkersburg resident Mary Fluharty.
Belpre Elvis tribute artist Steve Sams, clad in a pair of gold boots, cape and sequenced jumpsuit, sweated away Saturday while singing the King's music and gulping down bottles of water between songs.
"I'm just a hunk of burning hair, sweat and makeup," Sams said jokingly.
Despite the oppressive heat, Sams threw in a few extra snarls, leg shakes, cape twirls and karate kicks to commemorate the 26th anniversary of Elvis Presley's passing, which was Saturday.
Sams rarely performs on stage, spending most of his time working his way through the audience, singling out babies and women to sing to, while some husbands jokingly shooed Sams away from their wives.
Sams may not be Elvis, but his performance was dead on, said Janet Wilson, one of those Sams singled out to sing a few lines to.
"I love him. He's great. It makes me feel young again," Wilson said of the performance.
"Elvis had it all," said Vienna resident Steve Sims.