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County celebrates Fourth with a (big) bang

Staff writer

Marion County residents were in the mood to party as they flocked to area Fourth of July celebrations in record numbers this weekend.

Nearly 5,000 packed Peabody’s City Park Sunday after a full day of events to celebrate the town’s 150th birthday and the 100-year anniversary of its annual fireworks show.

Marion County Lake feted the revival of its annual fireworks Saturday with a cruise around the lake and live music by the Justus Band.

Both nights ended with a big bang of spectacular fireworks shows that delighted cheering crowds.

Peabody 4th Fest chairman Jay Gfeller was stunned to hear that up to 5,000 visitors celebrated at city park Sunday.

“If that is true, it is more than triple the population of Peabody,” he said.

Crowd sizes at the city’s annual show have ranged from 3,000 to 7,000, depending on the day the Fourth falls on, he said.

Button sales this year were “very good,” but Gfeller couldn’t give an exact figure.

Sunflower Theatre board member Susan Mayo served slices of a huge commemorative birthday cake made by Shirley Davis to park visitors.

Mayo said the throngs gathered on blankets and lawn chairs reminded her of a time when Peabody’s show was the best in the area.

“In the ’60s, everybody from Wichita used to come here to watch the fireworks,” she said.

This year’s event also drew out-of-county visitors.

The crowd applauded an Arizona couple who drove for days to attend.

Ashley Archie drove from Newton “to celebrate the freedom that God has given us to be here today.”

“I just love this place honestly,” she said. “Me and my family used to come here every year, but we hadn’t made it for a while. With the 100th anniversary, we decided to celebrate and bought out the whole fam.”

At least 30 volunteers turned out to put on this year’s show, Gfeller said.

Members of Peabody High School’s football team helped carry grids for the show’s handcrafted ground displays.

A crew of five began wiring aerial repeaters with 250 to 500 shots for the “Battle of New Orleans.” They started at 4:40 and were done by 8:15 p.m.

“That was pretty quick,” Gfeller said laughing. “We really did have a couple of extra fireworks this year. I think the crew is getting more efficient at setting it up.”

Q.W. “Jack” Whistler, fireworks boss in Peabody for more than 40 years, created the “Battle of New Orleans” ground displays and aerials in 1971.

Gfeller lighted the cannons by remote control Sunday after leaving the field for safety.

Like many volunteers, Gfeller has helped put on the show for decades, but feels as if he finally has figured out the timing.

“It’s been trial and error over the years,” he said. “A lot of people have figured out how to make that finale great.”

Volunteers cleaned up the park Monday and a took much-needed break.

“Everyone was really tired,” he said. “We decided to take a week off. Then we will get back together to make plans for next year.”

Meanwhile, a “good crowd” turned out for celebrations at the county lake, lake supervisor Isaac Hett said.

“I had maybe 10 sites left that had hookups for electricity, and other than that we were full,” he said. “It’s the busiest weekend we have had so far this year.”

A meal of sloppy Joes put on by the county lake’s Chat ’N’’Dine club sold out and raised more than $1,000.

Marion firefighters were on hand for safety and collected donations for the department.

Justus Band played well into the evening, providing live music after the fireworks ended.

Duane McCarty, the group’s base player, admits he struggled during the gig, but still had fun.

“I had to get some Gatorade in me,” he said. “My fingers where cramping. Hell getting old.”

The four-member group plans to return next year, if asked. They include Allen Macovec on drums, Kurt Graber, on steel guitar, and Ashley Wheeler on rhythm guitar.

Michelle Gooding was one of many visitors who thanked organizers for the revived fireworks show.

“It was a magnificent evening. God bless all of you,” she said.

She also thanked Justus Band for playing her favorite song “Old Time Rock & Roll” by Bob Seger.

Hett said all feedback he received about the show put on by Inman’s Rainbow Fireworks was positive. He has high hopes for next year.

“It would be really fun to start doing this every year,” he said.

Last modified July 7, 2021

 

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