If you ask Randy and Teresa Gearhart about their role as grand marshals for this year’s 54th Annual Hope Heritage Days they will say it is an honor and a privilege, but entirely unexpected.

The Gearhart’s agree the circumstances leading up to the grand marshal announcement earlier this summer seemed a bit suspect, but they agreed to attend the Old-Fashioned Independence Day celebration at the behest of their son, Jarod.

“They said, ‘You need to come meet us at the festival,’” Teresa recalls. “I told them, ‘We don’t normally go to that,’ but you never turn down getting to see your grandchild.”

Of course, when they showed up on the Town Square that afternoon, they were ushered up front and center where Chad Miller, who held the mic, and much to the couple’s surprise, made the announcement introducing the couple to the crowd as this year’s grand marshals.

Miller, who is president of the Hope Heritage Days festival and bandstand, says using mildly deceptive means to bring intended grand marshals to the announcement has become customary. The timing and location of the public announcement is intentional so the community can acknowledge it, Miller adds.

“We got ahold of Jarod at the dentist office and asked him for his assistance in getting the Gearharts up there [for the festival],” Miller says. “When they came up, we knew we had them at that point. It was a group effort.”

Miller explains that the list of prospective grand marshals was comprised of several deserving individuals proposed by members of the Heritage of Hope board. When it was all said and done, it was decidedly the Gearharts who would be this year’s grand marshals, Miller says.

“They’ve been very big supporters and generous sponsors of Hope Heritage Days for years and years,” Miller says. “They’ve just been a really big part of the community with Hauser athletics and [when it comes to] about any aspect of the community – they’ve been involved.”

Miller, who grew up across the street from the couple, says not only have the Gearharts raised three outstanding sons, but “they’ve always been very humble people.”

“That is the beauty of Hope,” Miller adds. “Most of the people in the community don’t want credit for their actions and things they do. This was a nice way to thank the Gearharts for all the years and continued support I am sure they will give to the community and Heritage Days.”

Now, if you were to ask the Gearharts about their activities, you would be none the wiser about the extent of their philanthropic involvement in the community as the couple prefers to stay off stage and out of the limelight. And it has always been that way.

“We are behind the scenes kind of people,” Teresa says. “We don’t like to be stood out. When we give to things it is done anonymously, so it is a bit hard for us to be out front, but I guess for Heritage Days this year we will be out front.”

And, indeed, they will as the couple will ride in an electric Jeep that will lead a procession of more than 100 floats along the parade route Sunday.

Randy admits he was surprised by the honor of being named grand marshal and says he and Teresa appreciate the opportunity.

The couple recently sold their family business, MHart Express, Inc., located on the Town Square for more than 30 years. The company opened in 1987 and, today, it offers a dedicated fleet of trucks, including Kenworth and Peterbilt, for long-haul transportation needs to customers across the Midwest, Southern and Eastern United States, in particular.

Although they miss the business, the couple is falling in love with enjoying being able to get up in the mornings and work at their leisure outside or take care of their grandbabies, Teresa says.

“We don’t have any huge plans,” Teresa says. “I think we are just enjoying being able to say, ‘You don’t have to.’ That is the hard part about owning your own business, it is your responsibility and the employees and their families who are relying on you. It is a heavy weight to carry.”

Heritage Days has always held a special place in the hearts of the Gearharts for many reasons. Not only has the festival been a part of their lives for many decades, but it has also been an integral event in the childhood of their three sons, who are now grown, and now for their grandkids.

“One of our favorite parts was knowing our kids were on the Square working with their groups and things,” Teresa says. “[For] a lot of these groups Heritage Days is the only time they make money to do things. That is the one thing we have always loved about it, all the opportunities that it gave to all the groups in the community that is one of the reasons we’ve always liked to support it. It was always something that meant a lot to us.”

The couple says they are excited to see the crowd this year’s festival draws. After all, simply pulling an event like this together is an awe-inspiring feat unto itself, let alone taking in the sight of the thousands of visitors who will descend on the Square this weekend to take part in the festivities.

“I, myself, love to see how many people come clear over here,” Teresa says. “And, of course, the parade. It is a hard job to put it together and I think it is awesome this little town can make such a great event Sunday.”

Randy is likewise looking forward to the seeing the crowd, but he’s also looking forward to the food, he says, especially the wide array of choices at the FFA booth.

“It is a fun event and there’s always something that someone enjoys because you never know what you are going to see and there’s plenty of food,” Teresa says.