Two named First Ladies of Memorial Day Parade

May 11, 2019

In recent years, the Aiken Memorial Day Parade planning committee instituted a new tradition of naming a first lady of the parade, in addition to the grand marshal.

This year, the group selected two women for the honor: Army veteran Jeanne Quattlebaum and Councilwoman Gail Diggs. Both ladies were instrumental in resurrecting the annual Memorial Day Parade in 2015 when a local chapter of the Marine Corps League announced it would no longer present what had become an annual tradition the South’s Best Small Town.

After reading about the Marine Corps League’s decision, Diggs immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the paper, challenging the community to step up to remember the service and sacrifices of military members and their families.

“Were it not for her poignant editorial in the Aiken Standard when the parade was in danger of not being held, we wouldn’t be having this parade,” said Linda Caldwell, director of the 2019 parade.

“[Gail] pushed; she sweet talked; and she used her vast connections in Aiken County to bring the parade back, better than ever I might add,” Caldwell said. “Her efforts resulted in more entrants in the parade, donations in treasure and kind, and a mobilization of volunteers the likes of which we hadn’t previously seen.”

Quattlebaum read Diggs’ editorial in the paper and decided to join forces with her.

The U.S. Army veteran also teamed up with a fellow member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sandra Herrick, and together, they formed an ad hoc group of citizens who had never met each other before and rallied the diverse group to organize the parade just weeks after the Marine Corps League’s announcement.

“I truly believe that God put people in places,” Diggs said. “He sent Jeanne and Sandra to me, and with their help, the committee grew.

Diggs said she’s “so grateful” for the initial group, which included the three go-getter ladies, Jack Morrison, an Army veteran; Ed Knight, who served in the Coast Guard and the Navy; Wes and Betsy Jerrell, of the Aiken Jaycees; and Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Navy veteran.

That was five years ago.

“For several years, this original group, and other great citizens who joined us along the way, worked tirelessly to make the parade a huge success,” Diggs said. “Sadly, Sandra passed away a couple of years ago, but she is with us in spirit. She’s the one who instituted the trolley honoring World War II veterans in our community, which is a special legacy.”

The Aiken County Veterans Service Office and the Aiken County Veterans Council are now leading the parade effort.

“How truly fortunate we are to have Miss Gail and Miss Jeanne as the champions of this Memorial Day Parade,” Caldwell said.

Quattlebaum joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during the Vietnam War era. She was stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala., which was the Army’s aviation hub at the time.

Digg’s family includes a long line of military service, including her father and brother. Her dad, Menthalee Bush, Sr., served in the U.S. Navy, and her brother, Melden L. Bush, was in the Army during Vietnam.

She has dedicated her time and talent to community efforts, serving on myriad civic and philanthropic boards for more than 30 years, and has served on Aiken City Council for the last eight years. Diggs also is a staunch advocate for Aiken’s veterans.

The duo sharing this honor will be a featured entry in the annual Aiken Memorial Day Parade, which takes place May 25, at 11 a.m. Businesses, civic groups and youth organizations are invited to participate in the parade. For more information or to register, visit aikenmemorialdayparade.com. The registration deadline is May 15.