Vale resident Zackie Warlick grew up picking cotton and raising chickens and pigs with his family.
The 10-member crew often completed what he called “back-breaking” work on their Sain Milling Road property.
He even took five weeks out of school each year to carry out the labor with his parents and eight siblings.
On Saturday, the 70-year-old will be featured in the flashy, one-of-a-kind Cat Square Parade as the community-voted “mayor.”
Each year, residents in and around Cat Square nominate and vote on a resident they feel should hold the coveted title.
Parade official Jamie Houser considered this year’s voter turnout to be one of the largest in parade history, with nearly 300 votes for Warlick.
The mayor typically rides on a float at the front of the parade, but behind the Grand Marshall, a title given to Al Mullen this year, former pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church.
Houser said Mullen and the church youth group helped establish the event in 1974 as a way to give back to the Vale community and set an annual tradition for residents.
This year marks the 40th anniversary celebration, and Warlick is proud to represent his friends, family and neighbors for the special affair.
While the life-long Lincoln County resident claimed there’s nothing “fancy” about his life, his humble, down-to-earth ways have impacted those around him over the decades, including life-long friend Jack Hoover, who called this year’s “mayor” a “real good feller.”
Warlick, who comes from a long line of “mayors,” including both of his uncles Bud Warlick and Tom “Boot” Warlick, remembered the dancing days of his youth, in which he and friends would frequent the now-defunct “Hog Hill Dance Hall” and “Cat Square Opry” in town.
“I’ve loved growing up here,” he said. “There are more friendly people (in Vale).”
Warlick labeled fellow western county citizens as some of the most “hard-working, honest people” he’s ever met.
For years, he, too, dedicated himself to hard labor, working as a lumber inspector and forklift operator in Lincolnton, Hickory and the surrounding area.
He looks forward each holiday season to attending the Cat Square Parade and reminiscing and catching up with old school and work buddies and others he hasn’t seen all year long, he said.
While rain is expected to take place Saturday during the much-anticipated event, parade officials are hoping community members will still participate and enjoy the festivities and floats, some of which will include horses, 4-wheelers, tractors, trucks and other antique vehicles that remain a community favorite.
While local DOT officials are not keen on the annual tradition, according to parade officials, since it messes up the roadway, the so-called “Cat Square Fairy” returns each year to spray paint the middle of the square with a white cat face inside a box.
The square is also marked by a tall, wooden stump in front of the Cat Square Superette.
Constructed nearly five years ago by Fulbright Lumber, Houser said, the stump contains a carving of a cat body over a square shape, making it a notable and memorable landmark for the area.
Parade lineup will start 1 p.m. along Zur Leonard and Cat Square Road. The event will commence at 2 p.m.