BRANDON — The stage is set for what organizers bill as the largest Independence Day event of its kind in Florida.
And as always, kids, neighbors and friends will head out early to tag a prime spot along the 2-mile stretch of this year's Brandon Fourth of July parade.
It kicks off at 10 a.m. on Monday at the corner of Lumsden Road and Parson Avenue, heads north to Roberstson Street, turns west and ends at Buckingham Place about two and half hours later.
As in years past, the Community Roundtable organizes the parade and its 105 entries, including 35 floats, that come primarily from charitable organizations, businesses and churches throughout the community.
Parade chairwoman Marie Cain and her assistant, Community Roundtable president Janine Nickerson, have prepared for the event since January, as has parade marshal LaWayne Wyatt, who has served in the position since 1991. All are voluntary roles.
"I think I was born to put smiles on kids' faces," said Cain, a widow and mother of three children, grandmother of two and great grandmother of six.
Nickerson cherishes the idea of keeping Brandon's hometown spirit alive and Wyatt describes it as a great deal of work, but also a lot of fun.
The organizers will dedicate this year's event to longtime parade chairman Peggs Stuart, who died earlier this year.
Leading off the parade will be grand marshal Rishi Nair, 12, of Seffner, who took top honors at this year's National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C. He is a student at Williams Middle Magnet School and the son of Ray Murali and Geetha Murali Dharan.
"As his parent I feel proud of his achievement, which undoubtedly is due to his sheer hard work and perseverance with a single objective to win the title," his father said. "We're looking forward to the parade and seeing him lead it."
Also being honored is Kavita Marballi, Campo Family YMCA associate membership director and winner of the Community Roundtable's 2016 Alice B. Tompkins award, named posthumously after the civic advocate and former editor of the Brandon News.
Recent Bloomingdale High graduate Zahiany Zayas Toro will also ride in the parade as winner of the 2016 Maureen Krzanowski Scholarship, given in memory of a longtime Community Roundtable volunteer.
In addition, volunteers from Brandon Meals on Wheels, selected as the Community Roundtable's 2016 Non Profit of the Year, will be among the parade's participants; as will Jim Clark of Brandon and his daughter Lily Clark, 11, who recently won first place in the Roundtable's Father of the Year Essay Contest.
Lily wrote about her dad rescuing a puppy from the side of a highway, taking it to the vet where it underwent surgery, and ultimately bringing it home when she was just 8 months old.
"I had no idea she wrote it until several days after she won the contest," said her dad, noting that his daughter tried her hardest but failed to keep it a secret from him until Father's Day.
"Lily has grown up with Vee (the dog) as her sister and they even celebrate their birthdays together. So it's no wonder that Lily would choose this to write about," he said.
The entire family is so thrilled about Lily's notoriety that even her grandparents from north Georgia are driving down to watch the parade.
Moreover, Brandon's 2016 Honorary Mayor, will make his official debut in the parade. The winner in the charitable fundraising program will be announced the morning of the parade. Craig Beckinger, Chuck Burgess and George Shea have vied for the title this year, each staging a number of fundraisers through the month of June.