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An eclectic, electric Fourth
See our list of Fourth events below this article.
If it’s Independence Day and you’re walking around downtown Winslow barking orders over a walkie-talkie, then you’re someone important. A big wheel for a day, one could say.
Commonplace, however, since more than 100 volunteers are involved in the Grand Old Fourth of July Celebration. And all have valuable jobs integral to the event’s success, whether they are wrestling garbage cans, directing traffic, herding parade entrants, or just running around in a circle looking for the next crisis to solve. One year, for example, someone forgot to order portable toilets.
“That was a catastrophe,” said Vicki Rauch, the former Chamber of Commerce office manager who was in charge that year. Restrooms in several downtown business were very busy that day.
“It’s always fun to be in the center of the action,” said Jeff Brein, who has been one of the event’s staunch volunteers for 16 years. “There’s a core of us who have adopted it and have been doing it for years and years and years. We know how it works and I guess we’re sort of stuck with it, but in a good way. It’s a wonderful event, patriotic, and for a lot of reasons we just keep doing it. We love it a lot.”
Thanks to those dedicated volunteers and the community’s infatuation with the event, it has gradually evolved – beginning in 1967 – into a huge bash that most residents and many visitors consider a don’t-miss affair. The addition of more moving parts in recent years has challenged the chamber’s ability to find enough volunteers to work it and still retain the small-town feel of a celebration that offers non-stop stimulation during a 10-hour period each July 4.
“The public probably thinks it’s on cruise-control and there’s nothing to it,” said Rodney Bauch, president of the chamber board. “That’s the way we want it, and you have to credit the organizations involved for having it look so effortless. But our hands are full at the current size. It’s a very long day and it takes a huge community effort to pull it off.”
Chris Miller has caught the fever. The real estate professional has for many years enlisted members of the island’s swimming and diving clubs to work garbage patrol, beginning the night before with the street dance and not ending until long after the last of as many as 25,000 attendees have left the area. Up to 30 kids work the two-hour shifts, which basically include filling 50-gallon tubs with garbage and then emptying them in a 40-foot dumpster. It’s dirty, smelly work but someone has got to do it.
“The kids have been great over the years, and now I almost feel a responsibility because I know how it works,” said Miller. “I guess you could say we’re stuck with it. But I do enjoy being involved with it. I see almost everyone I know, including some people I haven’t seen all year long. It’s almost like Christmas.”
Chamber President Kevin Dwyer, who has been directing the show for eight years, said the event has become so entertaining that sometimes volunteers can’t resist skipping a year just to enjoy themselves. He doesn’t blame them.
“We’re always trying to recruit new volunteers, but we have enough of a solid nucleus to keep things going smoothly,” he said. “We don’t have to reinvent it every year because it’s a tradition, whether people are there just to have fun or to actually provide the party. By now, it seems to be ingrained in our DNA. So we just try to keep it traditional and everything will work out.”
Dwyer considers the chamber and its board of directors as the party’s umbrella group with several organizations being counted on each year to supply volunteers for specific events – including the Kiwanis Club (the parade and others), Bainbridge Youth Services (Fun Run), Bainbridge High School’s Earth Services Corps (recycling) and the American Legion, just to name a few.
There are also the many businesses and sponsors who help out with money and in-kind services, and the city, which annually has supplied at no cost police officers, barricades and other equipment for traffic control.
After much discussion, the city has decided to continue the gifting policy this year, but in the future it will bill the organizers for such services just as it now does for other island events.
Ed Johnson, who has been involved since the early 1970s and has served as parade marshal for the Kiwanis Club in recent decades, said the event has become more demanding as it has grown.
“It used to be pretty simple,” he said. “The first year I did it we had the police chief, a deputy and town dog out there keeping order. There were no permits, just a bunch of food booths that had to plug into downtown stores for electricity.
“We had the fireworks for a while, but it got a little dangerous out in the harbor with so many boats so we had to stop that.” (Fireworks return this year after a lengthy hiatus – promoted, but not operated, by the chamber).
In the early days organizers had three or four meetings before the event, Johnson said, while these days serious planning begins in January.
“But I still enjoy it,” he said. “I guess we all tend to resist change, and the main group is still here. And why not? It’s a great fund raiser for charitable organizations and it’s a good safe way to enjoy the Fourth.”
Rauch has been involved since she was hired by the chamber on July 3, 1979.
“I was watching it from the review stand the next day and my host said, ‘Pay close attention because you’re going to be doing this next year,’” she said. “It was a pretty steep learning curve for a few years, but it’s really the volunteers who are the backbone of the event.”
She left the manager’s position after 14 years, eventually being hired to run the state’s Department of Licensing office in the same building as the Chamber of Commerce. However, she still does payroll, accounts payable and taxes for the chamber.
And she wouldn’t miss the Grand Old Fourth for anything.
“It’s still just a good, clean, family-oriented event and there aren’t a lot of those left,” she said. “And it’s really important because it serves as a major fund raiser for all the other chamber causes and programs.”
Have a blast this Fourth
Plan your holiday with a guide to the island’s festivities.
6-11 p.m. – 23rd Annual Street Dance & BBQ on Winslow Way, featuring several local bands, food and kids’ events.
7 a.m. – Pancake breakfast in the T & C parking lot
7:30 a.m. – Bainbridge Youth Services’ Fun Run at Winslow Way
9 a.m. – Historic Baseball Game, complete with vintage uniforms, Banbridge High School
9 a.m.-5 p.m. – All-day Street Fair with family entertainment, a juried art show exhibit, games and food booths at Waterfront Park
9 a.m.-5 p.m. – Entertainment at Winslow Green, featuring local musicians, storytellers and poets
9 a.m.-3 p.m. – Classic Car Show at American Marine Bank parking lot
10:30-12:30 p.m. – Children’s library fair at Bainbridge Public Library parking lot
11 a.m.-5 p.m. – Beer and Wine Garden at Shannon and Bjune, featuring Eagle Harbor Jazz Band (morning) and Marilyn Kay & Friends (afternoon)
11 a.m. – Courtyard Concerts at the Pavilion, featuring Platinum Blond and Jumping Fences
Noon – Home Town Band plays at Winslow Mall
1-2:30 p.m.– The 42nd version of the zaniest small-town parade in America, celebrating “Our Green Isle”
2:30-4 p.m. – Electric Car Show, Winslow Way
10-10:30 p.m. – Fourth of July Fireworks Show over Eagle Harbor
For more information call BIDA at 842-2982; Chamber of Commerce at 842-3700 or visit bainbridgechamber.com/grandoldfourth.
Winslow Way will be closed from 3 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Saturday. Participants and visitors on the Fourth are encouraged to park and take a shuttle bus, which will run every 20 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. from three parking lot locations: Ace Hardware and Kitsap Bank, both on High School Road, and First Baptist Church, corner of Madison and SR-305.
Drop off and pick-up allowed at the Police Station at 305-Winslow Way.