Marching merriment through the streets of downtown is the annual Canton Christmas Parade, starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5.

“No place like Home for Christmas” is the parade’s theme, and this year’s grand marshal is Richard Reeves, the Canton-born firewood minister, volunteer, former Central Haywood High School Principal, Vietnam veteran and originator of the “Have You Hugged Your Kids today?” sign on U.S. 23 Business.

“Canton was a wonderful town back when I was growing up, and it still is,” Reeves said. “I’ve been blessed all my life, and this is an honor for me to be chosen as grand marshal.”

Reeves has served food to the elderly as a Meals on Wheels volunteer for 13 years. He started a ministry program to keep families warm, delivering wood around Haywood County every day, except Sundays, since his retirement.

“I retired in 2005 and then started the wood ministry. The youth minister at my church asked me if I’d haul somebody some wood, and I said I would,” Reeves said. “This is starting my 15th year. We’ve delivered over 3,400 loads, valued at about $168 per load, so that’s over $500,000 worth of wood that we’ve delivered.”

Among his memories growing up in Canton, Reeves remembers attending low-scoring, high-intensity fast-pitch softball games between Champion Paper employees.

“I went to school in Canton, I was born in Canton, raised in Canton, went to Vietnam — joined the service when I was 17,” Reeves said. “I got expelled from high school when I was 17 for putting a lit cigarette in the principal’s coat pocket. I was mischievous.”

Despite the mischief he riled earlier in life, Reeves said a lit cigarette was never put in his coat pocket while he served as the first principal at Central Haywood High School.

“It’s an honor for me to be chosen in Canton,” Reeves said. “I wasn’t always Goody Two-Shoes, but they overlooked that I put the cigarette in the principal’s coat pocket, I appreciate that.”

Recognition is not the reason Reeves works almost full-time at the wood ministry. His hope is to spotlight the needs and help to get the word out about the service.

“Everything that I’m involved in is a community effort, I’m not a one-man show,” Reeves said. “Mountain Projects is involved, and Long’s Chapel Church is involved, and people throughout this community.”

With a son, daughter and five grandchildren, Reeves, age 71, said he will continue his work as long as he is able.

“I’ve been blessed my whole life, I’ve had good health,” Reeves said. “The Lord puts you in places where he wants you, and it’s a lucky man that finds out where the Lord wants you.”

See Reeves heading up the Canton Christmas Parade in his hometown 6 p.m. Thursday evening.

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