Grand old flag

Longtime farm and family woman, and community pillar, Ruth Bianchi, age 101, is this year’s Fourth of July parade grand marshal.

The long-running tradition of local Fourth of July events starts with a parade that winds through downtown Fallon and features one or more grand marshals. This is the 30th year for the parade and the first time the Downtown Merchants Association is hosting it.

“Last year,” said David Bianchi, Ruth’s youngest son who now lives in Reno, “we started talking about doing an entry into the parade.”

Our family was “thinking about a float of some sort,” he said, then laughing a little, “then putting our mom on top in her red chair that she sits all the time … to celebrate, you know, her 101 and half years.”

“When I spoke with Kim (Klenakis, Downtown Merchants Association president) she said why don’t we make her the grand marshal … my only concern was hoping she was good enough the day of. Some days she’s fully with it; other days she just wants to sleep all day,” he said lightly.

“I called Kim and said, ‘Could we arrange for a vintage car to haul mom down the street? I’d be happy to rent something’ … But then we had three people with cars fighting over who would get to do it … So we’ll have a vintage car with her in it and another older relative, and then we’re going to have a flat trailer decorated and pulled by a truck with relatives on there who can’t walk as easily, the older and young ones. The rest of us will just walk along and enjoy the parade too.”

The clan will wear red and blue T-shirts that read “Ruth Bianchi, 101.5,” since her birthday’s in December and she’s halfway there.

“‘Grand old flag,’ that’s the theme this year,” said Kathy Openshaw, Downtown Merchants Association secretary. “It kind of fits with our 101-year-old grand marshal.”

After moving all over the U.S as a youth, Ruth met her future husband Al Bianchi in Yerington. They lived in Smith Valley and briefly in the Bay Area as well as Fernley. In 1942, they bought a farm north of downtown Fallon and moved in with their three small children and one about to be delivered (David). They also brought along a few livestock. David was born the day they officially moved into the house.

In the last 74 years, she and Al raised their children and some of their grandchildren, along with playing host to dozens of Navy service members and young adults.

“When I was really young,” David said, “we’re talking now the end of World War II, a lot of the Navy boys would love to get away from the base … I don’t know how they connected with them, but somehow we always had a bunch of guys around. My parents stayed in touch with them all for a long, long time with Christmas cards and that kind of thing. They would love to just come out and stay. Even as I got older, if somebody just needed a place to land, they’d come live for a while. We still have lasting friends from those days, people who just kind of passed through and then we stayed in touch with their lives.”

Ruth was also very active in Neighbors of Woodcraft, the Artemesia Club, Good Sam, RSVP, and Lahontan Gem and Mineral — which she and Al helped found, including setting up a club house on their property. She served as a poll worker too.

In addition to her volunteering and helping run the family farm, she worked at the former Dew Drop Inn and Farmhouse restaurants, Safeway, Macs and as a mail carrier to Dixie Valley.

Life is much quieter now at 101 years old, but she still gets around with a walker and hasn’t lost her sense of humor. Her daughter Della Lee takes care of her in her home. Ruth and her family are proud that she’s being recognized as the parade grand marshal this July 4.

“We’re going to have a ball,” David said. “I don’t know how much fun she’ll have,” he said laughing, “but we’re going to have a blast.”

While the parade is being organized by the Downtown Merchants Association, the city, county, Lions Club and a few sponsors are also helping. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. Monday and will kick off at Taylor Street. The procession will involve approximately 40 entries, ranging from dancing and sports groups to the junior rodeo and fire department, to the Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

After the parade, the Churchill County Parks and Recreation Department, the City of Fallon and the Fallon Chamber of Commerce are hosting a “Picnic in the Park” at the Churchill County Fairgrounds. The festivities will run from 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., and the fairground gates are located at 325 Sheckler Road.

The picnic will feature live music, food vendors, special events and kids activities. The parade award winners will be announced from 1-1:15 p.m., when plaques will be handed out in categories including best use of theme, most creative, best youth, civic and business groups, best mounted individuals and a people’s choice award based on Facebook votes.

“It’s the Fourth of July, so it’s just going to be great,” Openshaw said. “There’s even going to be one of those big-wheeled, old fashioned bikes at the parade … My goal is to get 50 entries. Might not happen this year but maybe next.”

Every year, Rattlesnake Raceway raises money so they can offer fireworks in the evening. Keep in mind, personal fireworks are illegal in Churchill County and on tribal land.


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