Matthews Alive, a four-day family friendly festival, happens this weekend, kicking off Friday night, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. in and around Stumptown Park. At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, thousands are expected to line Matthews Trade Street for the annual Matthews Alive parade, billed as the largest Labor Day parade on the east coast.
This year, organizers have chosen two local heroes – and one dog – as parade grand marshals.
“The Matthews Alive Festival Board of Directors applauds these grand marshals who show what hope, devotion and inspiration are all about,” said Matthews Alive executive director Lee Ann Moore. “The parade will honor them for taking unthinkable situations and making them positive, while making the Matthews community a better place.”
If you’ve been around Matthews recently, you may have noticed the beautiful hanging baskets and planters along Trade Street. These plants, as well as the flowerbeds in the town’s public parking areas, are the handiwork of grand marshal Mario Rmah, a Montagnard refugee who was incarcerated during the Vietnam War for assisting and supporting American troops. Rmah spent time in solitary confinement in a North Vietnamese prison camp, suffered physical injuries and lost close friends, but his respect for the United States never wavered.
He was finally able to move to the United States, arriving in Charlotte in 1995 and moving to Matthews in 1999.
Today, memories of his homeland line the sidewalks of downtown Matthews with the stunning elephant ear plants brought from the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. He takes great pride in his work, doing his part to beautify a corner of the country he so loves and admires.
Grand marshal Jeremy Schnabel, a Matthews Police Animal Control officer, will also be leading the parade with Echo, an American pit bull. When answering a call on June 10, Schnabel found the dog, near death, lying in a street near Crown Point Elementary School.
The parade will honor them for taking unthinkable situations and making them positive, while making the Matthews community a better place.
Lee Ann Moore, Matthews Alive executive director
“He was curled up in a ball,” Schnabel said. “It looked like someone had put a dog skeleton in a burlap bag and thrown it on the floor.”
He carefully scooped up the injured, emaciated animal and transported him to Charlotte Animal Care and Control. There, Schnabel gently held the dog while vet techs pulled out maggots with tweezers from his bony body. A more through examination showed multiple wounds, missing hair and several teeth that had been shortened with wire cutters. Despite his wounds and all the poking and prodding, Echo remained perfectly still in Schnabel’s arms.
“He didn’t whimper, didn’t whine,” Schnabel said. “Even with all he had been through, he never had a negative interaction with anyone who was trying to help him.”
He suspected Echo was used as a bait dog to help train other dogs for fighting, but was unable to find any substantial leads in the case. It was closed a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, Echo was cared for by Animal Care and Control, Carolina Vet Med and Ballantyne Vet. After a blood transfusion, antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs, the dog started to gain strength, almost doubling his weight, from 23 to 45 pounds, in just three weeks.
S.A.F.E. Animal Haven fostered Echo for a few weeks until he went to his forever home – with Schnabel, his wife and two children.
Once Echo acclimates to his new home, Schnabel plans to enroll him in therapy dog training, hoping to take him to schools, hospitals and nursing homes to share the dog’s story.
“Echo is the hero here, not me,” he said. “I was just doing my job. But Echo can’t tell his own story, so I’m going to tell it for him.”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
Each Labor Day weekend, the Matthews Alive festival features games, rides, arts and crafts booths, festival food and live entertainment
Over 2,000 volunteers from more than 30 area nonprofits staff the event and, once the festival is over, 100 percent of the proceeds goes back to those groups to enable them to further their good works in the community.
Hours are: Friday, 6-10 p.m., which includes $15 all-you-can-ride armband night;Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.; Monday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.