BATTLE GROUND — Ben Lemons was named honorary ambassador for the city of Battle Ground in 2015, and it’s easy to see why.
Just spend a few minutes with Lemons pretty much anywhere in town, and inevitably someone will receive a big smile and hug. Lemons, 28, has worked collecting carts in the parking lot of Fred Meyer in Battle Ground for seven years, and he greets regular customers like relatives.
“He’s always so full of life,” said Christina Roth of Battle Ground seconds after receiving a hug from Lemons while walking into Fred Meyer recently. “He makes you feel good if you’re having a bad day. He’s just a constant ray of sunshine.”
Lemons will have a chance to bring that sunshine to Portland on Saturday when he serves as grand marshal of the Grand Floral Walk as part of the Portland Rose Festival.
Battle Ground High School graduate Sarah Burpee, a special events assistant with the festival, suggested Lemons for the honor, partially because this year is a big anniversary for Battle Ground’s connection to the Rose Festival.
“The Battle Ground floats are celebrating their 65th float in the parade this year,” she said. “What a better way to celebrate what’s great about our community than by honoring one of the most beloved citizens of Battle Ground.”
Lemons is excited for the walk, as he’s never been before. He said he already has his outfit picked out, but wants to keep it a secret.
“It will be Battle Ground-related,” he said.
His mother, Jamie Lemons, said it was a shock he was chosen.
“It came out of the blue,” she said. “Any time he’s out there in front of a crowd, he’s happy, so it will be fun.”
Burpee, who still lives in Battle Ground, got to tell Lemons about the honor in person, hunting him down at the Fred Meyer parking lot, where Lemons works three or four days a week. Lemons has been a presence in the community for as long as Burpee can remember.
“He’s the high school football team’s biggest fan,” she said. “Both of my parents teach at the high school, so I grew up around there. I remember seeing Ben around when he was at high school. You can see him walking down Main Street, and he’s always got a smile on his face. He’s a staple of the community. Even if you don’t see him at the grocery store every week, you see him at the football games or basketball games.”
Jamie Lemons said her oldest son has always been popular, but he wasn’t always as outgoing as he is now. Ben Lemons, who has autism, didn’t talk much until he was 6, his mother said. Once he started talking, he really blossomed socially.
“It felt like it happened overnight, but it was probably gradual,” Jamie Lemons said. “Around 6, 7 or 8, he opened up. We got really lucky. Once he got into schools, they started working with him.”
When not working at Fred Meyer, Lemons is known for walking around Battle Ground. He likes to visit people at the high school, and stop by Subway, where his younger sister works. He also likes to go to the Moda Center to watch the Blazers, and was in the crowd for every home playoff game this year, including when Damian Lillard, his favorite player, hit a buzzer-beater from way behind the three-point line to win the team’s first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I was yelling really loud.”
Lemons wears a step counter on his wrist while wandering the city, and said the most steps he’s taken in a day was around 50,000. He averages somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 a day, he said. He goes through shoes quite frequently, his mother said.
The family has lived in Battle Ground for 19 years and is in the process of moving to a new home in the city. Jamie Lemons said they even had to rearrange some moving plans so they can go watch Ben lead the walk on Saturday, which she was happy to do.
“He can go out in the city anywhere, and I don’t have to worry,” she said. “Everyone knows who he is. We couldn’t have picked a better city for him to grow up in.”