Young at Heart

104-year-old to serve as Fourth of July parade grand marshal

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Continuing to defy the limits of aging, George Royal “Roy” Bethune Jr.’s vigor could challenge a person 30 years his junior.

The Cartersville resident, who is known for his competitive spirit, leadership abilities and serving as a ‘model of values and integrity,’ has achieved many personal and professional accomplishments over the years. A World War II veteran, Bethune raised three children with his late wife of more than 50 years, Ruth; retired from Goodyear’s Atco Mill in 1979 as plant manager; served as chairman of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce in 1980; and is a charter member of the Kiwanis Club of Cartersville.

Now at 104, he still is reaching new heights. On Wednesday, he will become the first grand marshal of the WBHF Radio and Rotary Club of Etowah Fourth of July Parade.

“I was honored to be asked,” Bethune said. “I appreciate it. I’ve watched [the parade] occasionally [through the years and] … just [enjoy] seeing the crowd of people.”

In his “second century of life,” Bethune is enjoying his self-sufficiency, still residing in his Cartersville home, worshipping at First Presbyterian Church, day trading on the stock market via his home computer, playing games of croquet in his backyard with friends and having his driver’s license renewed in March.

“I tell everybody [the secret to my longevity] is I had good friends,” Bethune said. “[I have attended] First Presbyterian Church since about 1935. I like to do the stock market, trading on the computer.

“I did play tennis for many years, until my shoulder gave out on me, so I had to give that up,” he said, referring to injuring his rotator cuff around six years ago. “But I still play croquet in the backyard.  … I get by pretty well. … I’ve been blessed for certain. … I feel pretty good [health-wise]. I know I’m lucky.”

Born March 10, 1914, at his grandmother’s Atlanta residence, Bethune called many cities home during his youth, including Cedartown, Gainesville, Rome, Atlanta and Macon, due to his father being a traveling salesman.

After graduating from Lanier High School in Macon in the early 1930s, he attended Georgia Tech from 1932 to 1937 while working an entry-level job at Goodyear’s Atco Mill in Bartow. His tenure at Goodyear turned into a fruitful experience, working his way up the ranks from “floor sweeper” to plant manager.

Along with majoring in textile engineering, Bethune also participated in the ROTC while at Georgia Tech.

“I graduated a second lieutenant in the [Army] Reserve,” Bethune said. “I was ordered to active duty in 1940 for one year. Just before my year was up, Pearl Harbor happened, which extended my time for four more years. So I was in for five years.

“I was in the Ordnance, which is a branch of the Army. I started at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I went to two or three places in the states and finally I went to Hawaii toward the end of the war, and I was there when the war ended,” he said, adding he was a lieutenant colonel at the end of his active service.

Marrying in 1939, Bethune and his wife enjoyed around 57 years of marriage, prior to her passing in the mid-1990s. Along with his three children — Ann, Beth and Bill — Bethune delights in keeping in touch with his many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

 “Roy Bethune was mentioned when the Rotary Club of Etowah agreed to sponsor the parade,” said Candler Ginn, member and past president of the Rotary Club of Etowah. “Part of those duties included selection of the grand marshal.

“Roy was selected as grand marshal for the Fourth of July parade in recognition of his service to our country in World War II, along with being a leader in the Cartersville/Bartow area for 80-plus years. I can’t begin to tell you how much I think of Roy and what a wonderful person he is. … [Roy] is a tremendous example of ‘the Greatest Generation’ — a husband and father, citizen and leader from youth into his now second century of life, and a model of values and integrity that all should have.”

A key component of Cartersville's patriotic staple, the parade will kick off daylong festivities Wednesday, including activities afterward at Dellinger Park.

The offerings will be presented by the Rotary Club of Etowah, with WBHF FM 100.3 and AM 1450 also helping organize the parade. The club is helping keep the Independence Day tradition alive, after the Cartersville Optimist Club — which presented the offering from 1976 to 2017 — was unable to continue organizing the event.

“Personally, I love seeing people having a great time," said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini, WBHF station manager and member of the Rotary Club of Etowah. "There is a lot of work and planning that goes into these events, and getting up early on a holiday isn’t something that many people like to do, but I enjoy the excitement of all the planning coming together.

“I encourage people to participate because there are many communities that have discontinued their Fourth of July activities for various reasons, and nobody wants that to happen here. This is a day for everyone to celebrate together as Americans and enjoy a fun time together. Participating in the parade and enjoying great food, music and fireworks is a great way to do that.”

The WBHF Radio and Rotary Club of Etowah Fourth of July Parade will begin and end at Tabernacle Baptist Church’s parking lot. After lining up at 7:30 a.m., the entrants will depart at 9 a.m., proceeding down Douglas Street, Church Street, Bartow Street, Main Street, Tennessee Street and back to Church Street and Douglas Street.

“Parade applications are coming in,” Santini said, adding the deadline to enter the event is Tuesday. “Many people typically wait until closer to the event to sign up, although it would be great to have those in early.

“We encourage any company, church, civic group or local clubs to celebrate Independence Day in our parade. The application is available online at wbhfradio.org along with information for participants. It is only $40 to enter and the money goes directly to charity.”

Along with visiting the radio station’s website, those interested can obtain a parade application by dropping by the radio station at 7 N. Wall St. in Cartersville. As Santini noted, there will be a $40 fee — which will support the Rotary Club of Etowah’s charitable efforts — for each type of entry, ranging from floats to bicycles.

After the parade, the Dellinger Park festivities at 100 Pine Grove Road in Cartersville will get underway at 2 p.m. and wrap up at 10 p.m. The offering will feature musical concerts, food vendors and children’s activities. Around 9:30 p.m., a fireworks display will cap off the celebration, courtesy of the city of Cartersville, Bartow County government and Century Bank of Georgia.

While the festivities at Dellinger Park will not require any admission fees, there will be a $5 parking charge per vehicle.

“All of the money raised will be put back into the community through several different local children’s charities,” Santini said. “Established in 2002, the Rotary Club of Etowah adheres to the Rotary International main mission of ‘Service Above Self,’ by providing both financial contributions and hands-on volunteer assistance to numerous local charitable organizations.

“The Rotary Club of Etowah meets every Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. at Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse, located in West End Commons at 650 Henderson Drive, Cartersville. ... Comprised of active community leaders from various backgrounds engaged in serving the community, the weekly meetings consist of networking with fellow members and guests, as well as guest speakers and educational programs.”

For more information about the Independence Day celebration, search “Cartersville July 4th Celebration” to find the event’s Facebook page. Further details about the Rotary Club of Etowah can be obtained by emailing etowahrotary12@gmail.com or viewing the group’s Facebook page, “Rotary Club of Etowah.”