If you’ve been around Battle Ground for any length of time, chances are you know Ben Lemons.
When the 28-year-old Fred Meyer employee isn’t pushing carts at work, he’s more likely than not on his feet around town, always ready for strangers and old friends alike with a smile and a hug.
Ben will be heading to Portland this weekend to be the first grand marshal of the Portland Rose Festival’s annual Grand Floral Walk, an event that precedes the well-known annual parade. The Battle Ground native was a fitting choice for the Portland-based event given his reputation as a spreader of joy in the local community and festival organizers’ desire to honor one of its long-running participants, the city he calls home.
Portland Rose Festival Special Events Assistant Sarah Burpee explained that event organizers had been mulling over having a grand marshal for a walk, at the same time looking for a way to celebrate Battle Ground, a city who shortly after its incorporation in 1951 had its own floats in the parade. With the 65th anniversary of the city’s participation this year the city needed someone iconic to helm the walk, with Burpee thinking Ben was the best fit for the bill.
“I wanted to pick someone who would represent what was best about our community, and Ben really does that,” Burpee said. “He’s just so kind and he has such a unique ability to make everyone that he meets feel valued and welcome.”
“I see Ben walking down Main Street all the time and I see him every week when I go into the grocery store,” Burpee said. “I thought he would be such a great grand marshal for the walk.”
Burpee, a BGHS graduate herself, said that the Fred Meyer stores in Portland have their own group that does the walk annually — they’ll be walking alongside their fellow company employee for Saturday’s event.
Ben started working at Fred Meyer in 2012, currently taking care of shopping carts at the Battle Ground location.
Ben didn’t always have a gregarious personality.
His father, Guy Lemons, said Ben was diagnosed with autism around kindergarten age. His parents didn’t know something was different about him until he burned his arm and because at that time he was nonverbal he didn’t tell anyone he was hurt.
After working with professionals at the Oregon Science and Health University Ben was able to come out of his shell.
“They started working with him and he just took off,” Guy recalled. Now Ben is arguably the most social person in Battle Ground, and in 2015 he was proclaimed the ambassador for the city by then-mayor (and current mayor pro tem) Shane Bowman.
“He’s come a long way,” Guy remarked.
Ben said hearing the news he had been selected was “awesome” — a descriptor his parents said he uses often. When he spoke to The Reflector ahead of his grand marshal gig he hadn’t come to a decision on what his parade walk wardrobe would be, though a “free hugs” shirt he has been seen sporting isn’t out of the running.
“He’s a huge Trailblazer fan,” Jamie Lemons, his mother, remarked, which given their success in this year might make for some Rip City representation being a pertinent part of Ben’s grand marshal garb.
Ben said he hasn’t done anything like being grand marshal for a big event before, though when asked if he had any worries going in he answered with a quick “nope.”
“It’s right up his alley. He loves being out in front of people and spreading his joy,” Jaime said.
Though Ben’s parents are largely out of the spotlight compared to their son, both were incredibly thankful of the people of Battle Ground for supporting their son.
“Thanks for looking out for (Ben) when he’s out and about. He appreciates the love, and we appreciate that he gets it,” Guy said. “That means a lot to us.”
“We’re glad he’s ours,” Jamie said. “We’ll share him.”