A resident of the city since 1951 -- before Reynoldsburg even became a city -- longtime City Councilman Mel Clemens is the grand marshal of this year's Fourth of July parade.

"I was surprised to be asked after all these years," Clemens said. "I'm looking forward to it, and so is my family."

He said it might be hard for him to stay put in the convertible he'll be riding in during the parade.

"I'll probably get out and walk some," he said.

Clemens, 85, said he settled in Reynoldsburg because he met his wife, Nancy, a graduate of Reynoldsburg High School, at a weekly square dance.

"They used to have an old barn square dance once a week on Saturday night," he said. "The barn sat right where the post office is now. Nancy is the reason I stayed in Reynoldsburg."

That first dance was in 1949, he said. They were married for 56 years, and had five children -- four girls and one boy. Nancy died May 17, 2008 and Clemens has been missing her ever since.

"I try to stay active, which really helps," he said.

Active may be an understatement, considering he was interviewed from the golf course n Monday, June 26, and had just gotten back from a vacation with his family at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He has 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

"We all go to Myrtle Beach each year on vacation," he said. "We have a large family and they are all doing well."

Clemens began serving on what was then Village Council when he was 28 years old, before the village of Reynoldsburg became a city.

"There were only 600 people in Reynoldsburg when I moved here," he said. "There was no police department, but we did have a constable."

He served two years as a village councilman, nine years as an at-large City Council member and the last 18 years as Ward 4 City Council representative. He also served 16 years on the Truro Township Board of Trustees and 11 years as the city's safety service director.

"The city grew fast and it changed a lot," Clemens said. "I think they have all been good changes, although we didn't realize, I think, that the city would grow so fast.

"I've seen a lot of street and recreation and administrative improvements and we are still improving," he said. "Getting the tax levy passed (in May) means a lot for us -- the recreation center will be good for us and we'll have a lot of street improvements and things we've needed for years."

He said the city is behind in completing nearly $25 million in street repairs.

"I think we can really start improving the look of the city," he said. "It is all up to council, though, whether we can do it correctly."

Jennifer Clemens, the farmers market manager and Mel's daughter-in-law, said the Myrtle Beach vacation with her father-in-law and other family members is memorable and fun each year.

"Sometimes there are 20 of us and sometimes 40," she said. "We pretty much take over the place."

She said the family is excited about watching the parade.

"We are so proud and excited for Mel," she said. "He is so full of life and I really love that about him."

Chuck Cochran, director of the Reynoldsburg Community Association, said a committee chose the longtime council member to be this year's grand marshal.

"We received three nominations, and tried to choose someone who reflects the values and quality of life we treasure in Reynoldsburg and who makes an impact on the city," he said.

He said Clemens' years of service to the city and the fact he is a military veteran who served in the Marine Corps were all factors that went into the decision.

"We felt he has given a lot to this community and wanted to recognize that," he said. "Mel will be the first entry in the parade, just after the flag."

There are 45 to 50 entries for the parade so far, which will line up at 9 a.m. July 4 at Bartlett Road and East Main Street. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. at Rosehill Road and East Main. It will travel down East Main to Haft Drive, go down Haft to Davidson, then turn left and end up at Huber Park.

The parade includes a bicycle-decorating contest.

"Kids should show up with their decorated bikes between 9 and 9:15 a.m. at the First Merchants Bank, at Briarcliff and East Main Street," Cochran said.

He said the committee was happy to choose Clemens to lead the parade.

"We are very honored to have Mel accept the nomination of grand marshal and appreciate all of the years of service he has given to the community," he said.