Gahanna's past and present will be celebrated this Independence Day during the Lions Club's annual July Fourth parade that boasts the theme, "American Pride."

Chuck Rees, Lions Club parade chairman, said longtime Gahanna resident and veteran Joe Spanovich will be honored as grand marshal.

Because Spanovich was Gahanna's first mayor, Rees said, it's fitting that he receives the recognition.

"It's an honor to serve as grand marshal in the Gahanna Lions Club parade," Spanovich said. "I've had the privilege of having a front-row seat as Gahanna has grown and flourished as a stronger, more diverse community."

Spanovich said he couldn't be more proud to be part of Gahanna's history, as well as its future.

"Riding with Mayor (Tom) Kneeland in the parade literally represents the earliest and the most recent of administrations, but I believe we also represent the culmination of hard work and insight of all of the other public servants who have served between us, making Gahanna one of the outstanding cities in Franklin County," Spanovich said.

Spanovich, 88, served in the U.S. Navy for three years during and immediately after World War II and continued in the Naval Reserve for five more years.

After returning from the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill and attended Ohio State University, where he pursued a bachelor's degree in education, as well as a master's degree in school administration.

He was employed as both a teacher and principal in the Whitehall City Schools for more than 25 years and taught education classes in the summer at Capital University.

He served on the legislative committee for the Ohio Education Association, initiating a number of changes designed to benefit educators.

He also was instrumental in initiating and promoting the Head Start program for Whitehall's district when the program was launched.

Spanovich first ran as a Gahanna village councilman in 1958, a post he held until 1985.

He served as the first mayor of Gahanna, when Gahanna passed the significant milestone of turning from a village to a city in 1970.

As mayor, he was instrumental in ushering in a new era for the new city, facilitating the transfer from a village to a city, which included new services and an expansion of staff and infrastructure.

He expanded the police department to full-time status and oversaw the development of the Municipal Complex located on Hamilton Road.

In 1985, Spanovich turned his attention to Mifflin Township, running for the office of trustee.

He was elected and has held that position ever since -- 31 years -- making him one of the longest-serving public officials currently in Ohio.

Mifflin provides fire service for Gahanna, as well as the unincorporated portion of the township.

When Spanovich became a trustee, the township's fire department had 12 full-time firefighters serving a population of about 16,000.

The fire department had one fire station, one fire-engine pumper, an old ladder truck, an ambulance and a rescue vehicle.

Under Spanovich's tenure, the division has grown to four fire stations employing 80 full-time firefighter-paramedics, six full- or part-time fire-prevention officers and 23 full- or part-time dispatchers.

As trustee, Spanovich also oversees the Mifflin Township Police Department, which has five full-time officers to maintain 24-hour police protection.

Additionally, as trustee, Spanovich oversees the Mifflin Township Service Department that covers 3.9 square miles of land, 13 miles of paved roads and 2 miles of gravel alleys, served by four full-time employees.

Spanovich promoted a strong relationship with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the township is home to VFW Post 4712, with annual Memorial Day services being held at both cemeteries.

He's still actively serving his community, rarely missing an opportunity to wave from the top of a fire truck in Gahanna's Fourth of July Parade, fostering relationships with Gahanna's elected officials, stopping to visit one of the Mifflin Township firehouses or serving as chairman of the bimonthly township trustee meetings.

Born Aug. 4, 1928, in Columbus to Joseph and Helen Spanovich, he was married to the late Katherine Spanovich (Weiss) for 59 years.

He has a daughter, Julia, and two sons, Tony and Joe Spanovich, along with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In addition to honoring Spanovich, Kneeland said, he will distribute patriotic Mayor's Award participation buttons to youngsters and families who take part in the parade.

Kneeland said the effort is to encourage more people to decorate bicycles, build floats and get involved.

Parade participants will gather at 9 a.m. July 4 behind Clark Hall, 380 Granville St.

The procession will step off at 10:30 a.m. from Granville Street between Clark Hall and Dairy Queen.

It will end at the Royal Plaza shopping center on Stygler Road for the walkers and cyclists and continue to Gahanna Middle School West, 350 N. Stygler road, for the motorized units.