As Hope’s 53rd Annual Hope Heritage Days “A Year of Hope” draws near, the event’s 2021 grand marshals, Randy and Tonja Sims, say they are thrilled and quite humbled by the honor.

The event’s organizers will be the first to admit one has to be a bit stealthy to truly surprise an intended grand marshal. And this year, making the announcement was no different as organizers doubled down.    

Randy, who works in the city of Columbus' engineering department, says he was duped with a staff meeting. 

“The whole staff was sitting at the table and in walked Michael Dean and I thought, ‘Oh…’” Randy says. “And, then, in walked Chuck Caldwell and then I knew what was going on. That is what we do – the board always surprises the grand marshal at the most inopportune time. It is a great honor.”

Tonja, who was asked to attend the meeting as well, says she was likewise surprised with the unexpected news.

“They told me to come down because Randy was the grand marshal and to be there when they presented the plaque,” Tonja says. “I was excited for him and then I get there and they say, ‘Oh, by the way, you are the grand marshal, too.’”

In that moment, it was as though things had come full circle, she says. 

 “It is an honor,” Tonja says. “My late mother, Elsie Herron, had the privilege of being grand marshal. So to step in my mother’s footsteps is exciting.

That is the biggest honor you can get in Hope. The grand marshals are some of the best people who have lived in Hope.”

Tonja’s earliest memory of the event goes back to its inaugural debut when she and her family took part in the first Heritage Days parade in 1968. 

“Since we lived on the Schaefer Lake my dad pulled our boat behind his pickup truck,” Tonja recalls. “My brother, Tim, was behind the boat on a pair of water skis that they put rollers on like roller skates. He was behind the boat ‘skiing’ and I was the driver, I might have been five years old wearing a little polka dot bikini.”

And though her memories of the rest of that day are hazy and relatively few, Tonja says the Heritage Days festival became an integral part of not only her childhood and young adult life, but her married life, as well.

Randy, a Columbus native, readily adopted the Hope community as his own when he and Tonja married more than 30 years ago, she says.

“When we got married, I lived in Hope and I drove a school bus at that time,” Tonja recalls. “We owned our own buses and had to stay in the Hope area. So he moved to Hope and ever since then he’s adopted this little town like he was born and raised here. He just cares for Hope so much and that he adopted this little town makes me so proud of him.”  

Looking back, Tonja says she’s witnessed first-hand how the event has grown over the years in both popularity and attendance. 

“There are so many more people,” she says. “It isn’t just Hope people who come, it is a little bit of everybody from all different counties who come.”

The couple, who have each served in a variety of roles with the festival over the years, say they have not missed a single event.    

One thing the couple has enjoyed and appreciated over the years is not only the close-knit community, but its willingness to step up and help. And, with the changes in organizational leadership this year, it is refreshing and reassuring to see responsibilities being passed on to capable hands, Randy says. 

“What is nice is to see the younger generation stepping in and taking over some of the roles,” Randy says. “It is not that we are an old board, but with new people come new ideas and I know there’s a lot of interest and I am glad to see the younger generation stepping up and getting involved.”

As Tonja prepares to hand over the reins as food booth coordinator, she says she will continue to be involved in some capacity because, after all, at its core, Heritage Days is about the people and visiting and enjoying time together, she says.   

Tonja says she can’t imagine a Heritage Days where both she and her husband aren’t involved. That especially holds true for her husband, she says. 

“He’s done it all,” she says. “He is the one who takes care and makes sure everything runs smoothly.”

She adds that anytime anyone has a question, they say, “Go ask Randy.” And it is those three little words that made for one of Randy’s most memorable Heritage Days, she says.

As he reflects on his leadership tenure, he chuckles when he recalls the great t-shirt event of 2019.   

Randy says he asked all those with Heritage of Hope who were working the event that year to wear green vests to make them easy to identify. 

The suggestion was made – and later made good upon – that the workers wear shirts that say, ‘Go ask Randy.’ 

Lo and behold, workers that year did sport shirts that sent inquiries Randy’s way. 

However, Randy was ready with a t-shirt of his own as answer.

The back of his shirt said simply, “I’m not Randy.” 

“We have fun and all the past board members have had fun to,” Randy says. “It is a close-knit group and we’ve got each other’s backs.” 

Although he acknowledges having less responsibility will leave a void, Randy is excited to see new leadership assume control.    

“I’ll still be around I will be in the background doing other things,” Randy says. “I am not going to totally quit, but I won’t be at the helm anymore. I am going to let someone else take over. It’s time for someone else to learn, we will help them through as much as we can. The event has always been a success and will always continue to be a success.”