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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Brandon’s marshal truly grand

Hazel Henderson has been down this road before. In fact, the first time she drove on what now is State Road 60 through downtown Brandon it was clay and traffic was so sparse that your chances of not getting killed were far better than they are today.

Mrs. Henderson will be out there again Friday — as grand marshal of the community’s annual Fourth of July parade. Janine Nickerson, of the Community Roundtable that puts on this thing, maintains it is the largest such parade in Florida.

As usual it also promises to be the hottest parade anywhere. Its saving grace is that the parade is packed with politicians, and they will suffer along with everyone else. In fact, I’m told there is some sort of controversy going on, with some politicians not happy they aren’t in the thing. I would support building a long float with a cage and just loading them all up inside.

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I’m not sure how it is that Brandon gets to have the largest Fourth of July parade in the state, although I’m told Brandon is now the largest unincorporated area in the Southeast, and I believe it. The last time I checked, Brandon was swallowing up communities such as Mango and Valrico to the north and east, and connecting with Bloomingdale and Riverview in the other direction. Tampa appears to be next in line.

I remember a few years ago the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce had some sort of task force to find the center of Brandon that finally gave up because it kept moving.

When I was a kid living in South Tampa, a family in our church moved to Brandon. They might as well have been going to Wyoming. There was a farewell dinner for them; tears were shed as they left town for the wilds of Brandon, probably never to be seen again.

The Fourth of July parade has risen in stature through the years, although it doesn’t quite have the cultural appeal of Tampa’s Gasparilla pirate parade. I mean, where are the beads?

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At least the parade organizers did the right thing this year with the naming of Hazel Henderson as grand marshal.

She’s not a politician, and she’s not a jock.

But she is Brandon pioneer stock, and at age 98 she recently was honored as Brandon High School’s oldest graduate. She still lives alone and still drives, although she only drives over to Bell Shoals Baptist church, where not surprisingly she is a charter member.

“When I grew up, I don’t think we had what you would say was a lot. Everyone in the family worked because we didn’t have any modern conveniences. The nearest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile away.

“At night we sat around and talked. Of course there was no television and for a while no radio. We made up games and learned to do things for ourselves. I think it was much better then than today.”

After graduating from high school, she enrolled in what was then Tampa Junior College but would later become the University of Tampa. Eventually she earned a teaching certificate.

Her world, like an entire generation’s, changed. She married about the same time World War II came along and followed her new husband out to Texas for training.

Skipping over an entire life, the Hendersons came back to Brandon and she returned to teaching, which she would do for the next 30 years.

So I think, as we again celebrate our independence, it’s fitting to have as a grand marshal someone who helped build and educate this place we call Brandon. Not only that, Hazel says she can’t wait to ride in a convertible.

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