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AUBURN - Wearing a black leather jacket and cowboy boots, John Walsh expressed honor and gratitude for a tribute that now makes him a permanent fixture in his hometown.

“It's really something to have a road named after me by the people I've grown up with and love,” said the “America's Most Wanted” host. “It's a humbling experience.”

On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Timothy Lattimore and the Auburn City Council held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the connector road and unveiled a metal street sign that had Walsh's photograph along with the road's name.

Nearly 75 fans gathered at the corner of Grant Avenue and the newly dedicated John Walsh Boulevard slightly west of Wal-Mart, to catch a glimpse of the celebrity.

The city council voted to name the connector road after the Auburn native two weeks ago. Because of issues with the railroad tracks near York Street, only a half-mile is completed. The rest of the boulevard will be completed in five years.

Only Councilor Thomas McNabb did not vote for Walsh's name to grace the road. He also was the only councilor not to attend the dedication ceremony.

While Walsh and his wife, Reve, live in Florida, his family often visits Auburn in the summer.

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“I can't believe I'm going to see this every time I drive to Wal-Mart,” Reve Walsh asked. “Well, I'll have to go to Wal-Mart more often.”

Lori Balcom brought her three children to see the celebrity. Her oldest child, Amanda, brought Walsh's book “Tears of Rage” to be signed by Walsh.

Balcom's two daughters, 5 and 12, watch “America's Most Wanted” every Saturday night, she said. The Auburn resident praised Walsh's television show for helping her children become more aware and cautious of strangers and possible bad situations.

“It's not a nice world. Sometimes they just want to trust everyone, but they shouldn't,” Balcom said. “That's reality.”

Lattimore presented his childhood friend with a key to the city, a green street sign and a framed letter an Auburn resident had found that was written by Walsh's grandmother to his father when his father was serving as a pilot during World War II.

“To have a street named after you in your hometown is one of the biggest honors,” he said. “After National Father of the Year award, this is one of the biggest.”

Staff writer Jessica Soule can be contacted at 253-5311 ext 267 or jessica.soule@lee.net

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