The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 6, 2013

Annual Seneca freedom festival expands, thanks to volunteers

By Ryan Richardson

SENECA, Mo. — Jerrod Edison huddled his six-man team together for a quick strategy session Saturday before they faced off against the Seneca Fire Department in a tug-of-war contest at Celebrating Our Freedom as more than 100 spectators cheered on the competition.

Edison, who is a Seneca city employee, put the team together to win the first rope pull in nearly two decades in the city. Like the tricycle race and the bed race that were held earlier that day, the tug-of-war made a return this year because of popular demand and an increased turnout in volunteers to play host for the events.

“This was big back when we had it, and it just went away,” Edison said.

People always called for its return “because it was plain old fun,” he said. “This is the kind of stuff that you get in a small town. We all look forward to this weekend because it is the big summer event here.”

Having volunteers step into the role of organizers is something that the city hopes becomes a new tradition. Past years saw the gradual disappearance of events, despite growing attendance. The Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce oversees the planning and organization of the all-day event. Chamber Treasurer Lori Scriber said the town event sometimes breaks 10,000 attendees over the weekend.

“Even with years with bad weather, we can still hit 4,500, but on a weekend this nice we will probably hit 10,000, and that means a lot of good things for our city’s businesses,” Scriber said. “We have newspaper clippings going back into the ’60s where we running this, and it has been one of our signature events for the community.”

That work for the following year typically begins a few weeks after the event concludes, effectively turning the event into a yearlong project that culminates in an all-day celebration of the city. Because of the town’s smaller size, Scriber said, the chamber has to secure dependable volunteers in addition to securing the sponsorship to pay for the event’s sizable costs. The event includes one of the largest fireworks displays in the area.

“We effectively have 10 people behind the scenes putting this together, so it is up to us to challenge other community members to step into a leadership role to make sure these events happen,” Scriber said. “This event is completely volunteer-driven, and they put in work getting everything set up and running smoothly. Then we get people who want to go beyond that who help put together new activities so that we continue to grow.”

Volunteers like Katherine Oxford and her husband, Darin, are those type of people helping the event grow. Both grew up in Seneca, before they departed for Kansas City later in their lives. Now that they have returned to the city as business owners, Darin said, they want to help in any way they can, which included organizing Saturday’s rope pull.

“I grew up with this, and we came back every year when we were away,” Oxford said. “Now my grandkids are taking part in some of the fun stuff I grew up with. You get to see it come full circle in a small town like this.”