BUNNY IN THE CITY: The Return of Thunderbolt’s Blessing of the Fleet

Bob Milie, Bishop Stephen Parkes, Dana Williams

When I introduced Town of Thunderbolt’s Mayor Dana Williams and City Manager Bob Milie to Simply Savannah’s Dru Usry and Marianne Ganem Poppell, I knew I had combined the most polite people I know together. I also knew that they would like each other so much they would bring the long awaited Blessing of the Fleet back from a 30 year hiatus!

When I pull up at the parade-staging park on May 28 in my big red Jeep Gladiator, I am revved up when I learn that I will be the caboose of the parade down River Drive. As I park next to American Legion Post 184 Color Guard, I have an unexpected guest run over to the Jeep and jump in.

Hey Casey Nash! The Department of Georgia First District Commander wants to cool off so she tells me to kick up the air while we pass by the parade line. I got you! Air conditioning blasting, we chase down the mayor and find him posing for pictures on “Hercules,” Thunderbolt Marine’s mammoth tow rig.

Dana is one big uber-positive dude! Over the moon that this iconic event is back, the newly elected mayor shares, “One of my campaign promises was to bring back an event that highlights this historic shrimping town. Preserving the history and heritage of the hardworking men and women that make this community so unique is my goal.”

Leaving Dana with American Legion Post Commander Joe Higgins, I see my chauffeur—aka new college graduate Sarah Lawson arrive. The communications grad is marketing/sales job hunting and is a little bit amped to drive in her first parade.

Strolling past the Savannah State University Department of Marine & Environmental Sciences team and Dana Rutland with Towboat US, photographer Chris McShane joins us for some pics of Finches Sandwiches & Sundries’ colorful characters. One of those pretty people asked if I’m the Bunny from Jefferson County.

Finally! I am actually meeting famous fashionista Emily Bargeron. Since I don’t have a drop of fashion, Emily and I don’t run in the same circles, but I have heard amazing details about this tiny beauty and her fashion empire.

After fun pics of Desposito’s Seafood and the wicked fun guys from Hinesville/Ft. Stewart Shrine Club, we head back to the Jeep to do beauty queen waves to the crowds lined up on River Drive. With sunlight streaming down, I glance over at the Wilmington river dotted with every type of boat and think that is a perfect day for a festival.

Having a birds-eye view for pics and video from the back of the Gladiator, I get fab shots of Sean Murphy and his 360 camera, Marianne’s long-time supporters Laura Ross and Maureen Billings then see Tubby’s patriarch Ansley Williams. Looking tan and fit, Ansley has a new lease on life in the form of his three year-old grandson.

Parking my Jeep with my Step One Automotive Group family, I take a selfie with my queens Maja Ciric, Chelsea Altman and Danica Williams. I then make a lap past the Beer Garden, the 40-plus street vendors and see a crowd gathering around a touch a truck section where the TOT Fire Department has a fire truck, a police car and Hercules.

Y’all, the Henna and Fairy Hair lady is here! I seriously want some red shiny ribbons in my hair but I can’t detour from my Big Cheese Truck destination! Bypassing hand rolled custom cigars and charismatic Rhoot Man Sidney Lance, I finally get a chance to slow Marianne down for a chat.

With roots in Thunderbolt, the third generation Ganem pauses to tell me why she loves this festival so much. “Remembering this event from my childhood and knowing how much it meant to the generations before me made this day extremely special. My entire family volunteered this week and knowing that this family tradition will be continuing fills my heart with pride,” she shares.

While watching Bishop Stephen Parkes of the Cathedral of St. John’s bless the boats with Holy water, and talk of the tradition of dropping a red rose wreath into the water to honor the lives lost at seas while providing for their community and family, I think that this is what the world needs more of—wholesome family friendly gatherings. 

These small but mighty communities need to be recognized and their history preserved and celebrated. Bless you Dana and Marianne for blessing us with this historic event!