Patriotism and community hallmarks of a small town 4th of July

By: 
DEB HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, July 6, 2018

Fourth of July color runners (from left) Tawnya Dengel, Kale Dengel, Samantha Sciuchetti, Haley Dengel and Connie Sciuchetti stand on Main Street. The group had just finished the 3K color run.

Photo by Deb Hill

Lewistown Police cars and the American Legion Color Guard lead the Fourth of July parade down Main Street Wednesday morning.

Photo by Deb Hill

Boys enjoy a cold dip in Spring Creek on the afternoon of July 4. The boys are part of an annual father-son gathering held by the Pork Lewis family. In the water are (left) Quinn Jacobs and (right) Conner Jacobs. In the boat are (from left) Tyler Breschini, Brian Breschini and Charlie Lewis.

Photo by Deb Hill

 

 

As the sun came up over Lewistown on Independence Day, many were already at work on the day’s festivities. 

With sweatshirts and jackets zipped against the cool breeze, members of the American Legion arrived at their posts along the routes of the 3K and 5K color runs. Chamber of Commerce staff reviewed logistics for the pancake breakfast, cake auction, parade and fireworks. Central Montana Museum volunteers began moving ice cream containers out of freezers for the afternoon social. A few early bird parade-watchers dropped chairs off along Main Street, reserving preferred spots. Flags fluttered and dogs barked. It was a typical Lewistown Fourth of July.

In the parking lot behind his business, True Value owner Doug Peterschick was at work installing an American flag and two folding chairs in the bed of the cherry-red 1949 Ford truck he planned to drive in the parade. Peterschick said he’s owned the fully restored truck for “something like 40 years.” Gleaming and spotless now, it was not always in great shape.

“If we’d known what we were getting into, I’m not sure we would have started. The back of the cab was all rusted out, and there was a lot of other work that needed doing,” he said as he lifted chairs into the bed.

“The chairs are for my grandkids. They like to ride with me in the parade. Every year they ask me, and for the past couple of years they’ve wanted to ride in the back instead of in the cab. So I got these chairs for them,” he said, adding that he mostly enters the parade because of the enjoyment his grandchildren get out of it.

“It means so much to them that it means a lot to me,” he said.

 

Trading pies for rockets

Just around the block on Main Street, Jerry Carpenter was setting up her own folding chairs, staking claim to her favorite parade viewing spot. 

“I just love the Fourth of July in Lewistown,” Carpenter said. 

Carpenter had spent the day before baking her renowned lemon meringue pie, a donation to the Chamber’s cake auction, a fundraiser for the fireworks.

“I’ve been donating to the auction ever since it started,” Carpenter said. “My pies always raise quite a bit for them. One year one went for $900.” 

Making a lemon meringue pie from scratch is quite time consuming. What’s in it for Carpenter?

“I do it so I can enjoy the fireworks,” she said. “And for Lewistown. Unless we all do our part, there won’t be a Lewistown.”

This year, thanks to a bidding war between Tim Robertson and Dave Sather, Carpenter’s citrusy contribution raised $400 toward the cost of the fireworks display. 

 

Parading down Main Stream

As the morning wore on, parade watchers packed into downtown, the more experienced choosing a favorite side of the street, sunny or shady, and marking their viewing territory with chairs, wheelchairs or personal items. People craned to see if anything showed signs of moving up at Seventh Avenue, the official start of the parade route, then checked their watches, and peered up Main Street again.

Finally a blare of sirens and flashing emergency lights on fire and police vehicles marked the parade’s official start. The American Legion color guard led off, flags flapping. People stood to salute. Small kids clutching buckets or sacks edged out from the curb, anticipating the upcoming candy harvest. Despite the recent ban on canines at downtown events, plenty of dogs peered anxiously from behind their owners’ legs, eyeing the oncoming marchers.

The professionally-designed floats of big city parades are few and far between in Lewistown’s version, but those who like horses, hand-lettered banners, kids with water cannons, karaoke, classic vehicles, penny candies or politicians had plenty to enjoy. 

Joe Toller, watching the parade with his wife, Angie, and his three young sons, said he’d only missed about three Lewistown Fourth of July parades in his entire life.

“And I’m 40 years old,” he said. “That’s a lot of parades.”

But, Toller said, it’s never boring.

“There’s something new every year,” he said, “and the boys love it, too.”

Solomon Albertson-Gore, enjoying his first post-high school summer, said he thought he’d been to the parade every year except one.

“Remember, there was that one year you didn’t want to go?” his mom, Kari Albertson-Denison, reminded him.

“Yeah, and then it was weird [when the Fourth of July came] that we didn’t go,” Albertson-Gore answered.

As always, the parade ended with Duane Ferdinand in an Uncle Sam hat scooping horse poop off Main Street, a clue to those assembled that it was time to move on out.

 

Socials and socializing

And move out everyone did, heading off to any one of a number of community socials. Many went to the soft opening of Big Spring Brewery and Central Feed Grilling Company, which provided an outdoor feast of grilled brots and hot dogs. Others attended the Southern Gospel picnic in Hawthorne Park, for free hot dogs and watermelon, or home to prepare their own family picnic feasts. 

Close to 500 people made a beeline for Symmes Park, home of the Central Montana Museum, for the free ice cream social.

“We ordered 480 ice cream cups and we ran out of chocolate,” said event organizer Shirley Barrick. 

The “we” there is the Central Montana Historical Association, a volunteer group that runs the museum and puts on the ice cream social every Fourth of July.

“The first few years we scooped the ice cream ourselves, out of 3-gallon containers,” Barrick said. “We made cones for people. It was a sticky, gooey mess. Then someone on our board said, ‘enough is enough,’ and we started buying the ice cream in cups. It’s a lot easier to handle.”

But Fourth of July in a small town is about more than just parades and food – more than anything it’s about family. From college students returning home for the holiday to giant family reunions, reconnecting is key.

For Pork Lewis, it’s a tradition. On Fourth of July he hosts an annual “fathers and sons” event, bringing his far-flung family back together. Wednesday afternoon they gathered at Spring Creek to test the water (“freezing” was the reported temperature) with an inflatable boat. 

Janelle Painter and her son, Kai, 11, ran the 3K color race together, ending up red, white and blue from head to toe. Connie Sciuchetti and Tawnya Dengel, along with their kids Samanth Sciuchetti, Haley Dengel and Kale Dengel, also took on the 3K. Rather than ending in red, white and blue, they started the race that way, dressed in holiday-themed outfits -- perhaps the beginning of another annual family tradition?

 

Ending with a bang

While fireworks could be heard going off all across town, the official show began at 10:15 p.m. on the hill above town. The Lewistown Area Chamber of Commerce contracts with Pyro F/X in Billings to produce the show, which costs between $10,000 and $12,000, according to Chamber Director Connie Fry.

Fry estimates between 250 and 300 people gathered in Symmes Park to watch the event. 

“We don’t have an official headcount, but I handed out all the popcorn we had, which was 250 bags, and we know there were some people who didn’t take any,” Fry said. “Then there were all those people parked along the highway and up at the Farm Bureau parking lot watching from their cars. I really don’t know how many people watched altogether, but it was a lot.”

When your day starts with pancakes at 7 a.m. and ends as the last twinkling ember fades out of the night sky, with plenty of food, family and friends packed in between, you’ve experienced the kind of small town Fourth of July to be remembered for a long, long time…or at least until next July, when the fun starts all over again in Lewistown.

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