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Volunteers are key in city’s July 4th festivities

The official event programs and posters are printed. Parade-goers began placing their lawn chairs and blankets along the Central Street Friday morning. Sack races, egg tosses and preening politicians are days away.

Yet the city’s first live July 4th of July celebration in three years was hardly a sure thing, said Hillary Bean, Parade Director and Vice President of Evanston Fourth of July Association, the all-volunteer, non-profit group that works throughout the year to put the event together.

The Association had hoped to go live in 2021 but as of March of that year, with COVID-19 surging again, “things were really dicey,” she said in an interview this past week.

“By April and May things were starting to open up, but by then it was just too late for us to get anything going,” she said. “And this year, things are still, you know, on and off, dicey. So, we got a little bit of a slow start for this year too. But we are we are live starting 9 am Monday [July 4].”

Key facts for this year

Here are some other quick things to know about the Fourth of July festivities as the award-winning events return to live form.

This year’s theme is “Celebrating for 100 Years,” which recognizes the Association’s founding in 1922 , when parents joined together to offer a safe celebration after a child was injured while playing with fireworks.

Paul Wilson, who is a trustee of the city’s Fourth of July Committee, is seen in a past fourth of July parade, riding in a red car Credit: Provided by Paul Wilson

Bruce Baumberger, Paul Wilson and Sam Sibley, long involved with the organization, are this year’s Grand Marshals, said Bean, who is also the program book editor.

Baumberger started his 50-plus year leadership of the Evanston Fourth of July Association as an Assistant Twilight Show Ticket, Chair, “back when a twilight show and fireworks took place at Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field),” according to a short biographical sketch in the celebration program.

As an incoming trustee in 1979, Baumberger led the change to offer the Association’s fireworks show and concert free of charge at the lakefront.

Wilson, too, has held a number of roles, including serving as Celebration Manager, Trustee and Master of Ceremonies at the Lakefront Concert.

Sibley started with the parade when he was a scoutmaster for Evanston Boy Scout Troop 26, he recalled in an interview in the program.

“For the Bicentennial, the scouts wanted to be in the Evanston 4th of July parade,” he recalled. “Every scout marched in the parade in full uniform. They loved it. Over the next three years, I brought all of the Evanston Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts into the parade.”

This year’s event also pays tribute to David J. Sniader, a Trustee Emeritus with the Association who passed away last year. “Nothing made Dave happier than working with his friends, the many volunteers of the Evanston Fourth of July Association,” the program note said. “Together they spent many months preparing for an amazing, multifaceted day of celebration, including a parade and fireworks accompanied by synchronized music.”

The parade kicks off at 2 pm on Central Street and Central Park Avenue, and travels east to Ashland Avenue (at the Northwestern University football stadium).

The program lists 78 entries, with the Evanston Youth Hockey Association, Sparky and Uncle Sam among the first. The Backlot Neighborhood Association, which built award-winning floats on a rectangular lot hidden behind houses in their northwest neighborhood, is #23.

Some groups have fallen by the wayside since the COVID-19 pandemic. But the crowd-pleasing Jesse White Tumbling Team is back, at #61, confirmed Bean.

“They are in every year. They love our parade, and they are fabulous performers. The kids love them.”

Once again the Palatine Concert Band will perform in concert, starting at 7:30 pm in Dawes Park at the Arrington Lagoon. The Association’s award-winning fireworks show will then start shortly following the concert’s final number, at 9:30 pm

The city refrains from giving a headcount on the crowd, which begins assembling along the lakefront, starting in midday. “But it’s shoulder to shoulder out there,” Bean said.

The Association bears the cost of the fireworks as well as the other activities, with the city contributing police and fire as well as Parks and Recreation, Streets & Sanitation, Public Works and other services.

“I used to say that fireworks cost $1,000 a minute,” said Bean. “But with the supply chain and everything, the fireworks are costing us a lot more this year, it’s more like $2,000 a minute.”

The Fourth of July Association, celebrating its 100th time of organizing the events, depends on public support. Anyone who wishes to contribute may visit www.evanston4th.org. Programs for the event are available at the parade’s staging Info Booth, at Central and Central Park; at the judges stand at Ackerman Park and at the reviewing stand at the end of the parade’s end.

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