By Ryan Richardson
There were fireworks, a parade organized by Hispanic churches, a 49-year neighborhood tradition — and did we mention fireworks?
Relatively cool weather worked in the Fourth of July’s favor, bringing out an early crowd to Joplin’s Landreth Park on Thursday. Paul Bloomberg, city recreation director and event organizer, estimated that 15,000 people attended the city’s annual celebration.
The celebration included a $10,000, 30-minute fireworks display by Liberty Pyrotechnics, food vendors, and music from Duke Mason, the Jake Clark Band and Big Smitty.
Joplin resident Kyle Rossiter was among those spending the day at the event.
“We’ve done this for the past few years, and it has become a pretty fun addition to the Fourth,” Rossiter said. “In the past it has been almost too hot to plan anything at home, so this has been a great alternative to staying home. Everyone in town comes out to this to have fun.”
Thursday’s celebration also was a time for local organizations to ramp up their fundraising efforts. Joplin Lions Club members were manning a mobile grill station to raise money for the organization’s many charities, including eyeglasses for children and adults. Former club president Chris Howard said that with the cancellation of Joplin’s Boomtown Days festival, many organizations like the Lions Club have stepped up their efforts at events like Thursday’s celebration.
“Boomtown was where we made the lion’s share of our fundraising, so we are having to make sure that an event like this is even more successful,” Howard said.
Howard said 15 club volunteers turned out to man two shifts.
“We will probably pull in close to $1,000 today at this event, which will buy 14 pairs of glasses,” he said. “We’ve been at this for a long time, so we’ve got this down. It takes dedicated people willing to work on a holiday, but we don’t mind. This is a lot of fun for us, and it helps out so many people in the end. We work for free here, but we still give up something to be here, but it is worth it.”
Heather Jensen is a veteran fundraiser for groups like Joplin Bigger, Better, Stronger, which helped provide vacations for families that were affected by the May 22, 2011, tornado. Recently, her focus has turned to Oklahoma and many of the towns that were devastated by tornadoes this spring. Jensen was selling shirts and bracelets, and taking donations to help those in need in Oklahoma.
“Some of the families that came up here and volunteered at that time were impacted in the same way,” she said. “We are working hard for them like they did for us.”
New and old traditions
For the second year, the Hispanic Church Alliance held a parade around the Carthage square, then celebrated with food, games and music on the grounds of the Ministerios el Jordan church.
Several Carthage city leaders attended the event, and sponsors said it was held to display pride in county and love of God.
One Joplin neighborhood celebrated the Fourth with a flag raising, something that has been done in north Joplin since 1964, when Larry and Virginia Hickey invited a group of neighbors to their home on Crestwood Drive.
Hickey, who was unable to attend the Thursday event at the home of Jon and Courtney Dermott, said the flag raising came about after he and his wife, now deceased, heard a U.S. Navy captain speak about the importance of patriotism.
“I came home and had a pipe cemented into the yard, and we began the tradition of raising the flag,” Hickey said.
He said that in 1974, before he and his wife moved from the address, 500 people turned out for the event.
The tradition has included the flag raising, the pledge and a guest speaker. Hickey said speakers have included elected officials, an astronaut and a five-star general. But often, he said, members of the community would give the address.
On Thursday, Jane Cage, who lives in that neighborhood, spoke to the group. She leads the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, which gathered information from residents and city leaders for rebuilding after the May 2011 tornado. Cage, on May 22 of this year, accepted the inaugural Rick Rescorla National Award for Resilience on behalf of Joplin.
“I’ve seen men and women bend but not break beneath the load of responsibilities heaped upon them by May 22,” Cage told the group. “I’ve also seen a community that dared to dream by writing their vision on sticky notes in a crowded gymnasium. I’ve seen our city recognize its potential and grow bold to reach for what we could become. I’ve been heartened time after time when we have put our individual organizational needs aside to work for the common good.”
GLOBE EDITOR CAROL STARK contributed to this report.