Photos by Andrew Morrison and Toby Keller
For many people in the area, the Warren County parade is the beginning of their 4th of July holiday celebration. For Tammy Wester, and the rest of the 4th of July Committee, the day starts at 7 a.m. and seems like work. The preparations have been ungoing for months.
“We’re all volunteers just giving back,” Wester said. “It’s a way to stand up for our soldiers, tip our hat to their service, and give the people an opportunity to come out and celebrate what this holiday stands for together.”
Wester has a thread of military service winding through her heritage all the way back to the Civil War and her forefathers who fought at Gettysburg. Now her father and stepfather are both veterans, and her brother is a part of the National Guard.
“I’m proud of that tradition in our family,” Wester said. “It’s a spirit that we really need to bring back. People need to remember why we have these freedoms, and are able to celebrate this day. This has been an awesome committee to work with, everything has gone smoothly, and it gives us a chance to rekindle that patriotism this country needs.”
At 10:30 a.m., Wester was directing the different units of the parade, lining them up along the side streets of Pennsylvania Avenue on the east side of town. The Chautauqua Corvette unit took over Cedar Street, and at the front of the line, waiting for Wester’s word, was Dave Van Ordsdale in his Silver Anniversary ’78 Corvette.
“I can remember 30 years ago doing the Warren parade,” said Van Ordsdale, a resident of Russell. “This town is lucky to have it. It really is a wonderful thing, and we keep coming back for it. It’s a good day, can’t complain about the weather, and it looks like everyone is ready to go.”
Although chairs were set along the parade route for days, most of their occupants didn’t appear until Wester had almost everyone in place. The United Veterans’ Council got things started, and headed down Pennsylvania Avenue with four divisions of fire trucks, color guard, marching bands, clowns, and all sorts of representations of local businesses and organizations following.
Toby Holland stationed the tent for the First Lutheran Church of Warren halfway through the route instead of walking with the parade. He and his team fanned out from there, handing away free bottles of water.
“There are so many organizations here that you just don’t often get to see any other time of year,” Holland said. “We all come out for this, and come together as a county. There’s real pride here. As a church, Independence Day has to be a reminder that we have the ability to come out and represent ourselves freely like we are.”
Holland views the day as an equal opportunity celebration.
“As a veteran, I think this day is more about each individual realizing their American heritage and enjoying it,” Holland said. “It’s a day for all Americans, and we can celebrate that.”
Robbie Hart doesn’t have to think about how he celebrates the 4th of July. For years, he has been dressing up in his disguise as a clown and walking the parade route challenging viewers to a contest to see who can throw a playing card the furthest. He always bets in candy.
“About every one in a hundred can beat me,” Hart said after conceding to a loss and fishing for a sucker in his pocket. He continued down the avenue, shaking hands and making connections along the way.
“Not enough people appreciate what we have here,” said Gail Flatt after talking with Hart for a minute. “Warren is lucky to have a parade, and lucky to have people like [Hart]. We take our independence for granted, and today is a way to change that, and to gain patriotism. Doesn’t hurt to hang out with family either.”
Flatt served in the National Guard from 1965-72, and came to the parade with his wife. Without knowing it, he summed up what so many people were saying during the parade. Whether it was John Dushaw with his grandchildren, picking up as much candy as possible and looking forward to a barbecue afterwards, Gene Sharp walking with the Russell Roller Rink and enjoying the crowd, or Mary Hirschfeld who came back to town to be with family for the weekend, they all recognized the inseparable themes of this national holiday: America past and present.
“Of course we are who we are, and are allowed to be such because of the freedom our veterans fought for,” Toby Holland said.
The Warren County Independence Day parade, in its 67th year, is organized by people like Tammy Wester, and made interesting by those like Robbie Hart, but it is enjoyed by everyone, and it brings those who see it closer to the family they’re with, and the community they’re apart of. It is a salute to the possibilities of life in America, and a reminder of how those possibilities came to exist.