About Us

Champaign County Freedom Celebration History

By Bert Marett

About twenty seven years ago, a group of local businessmen had a meeting one afternoon on the front porch of Dr. Osborne's house in Champaign. This group, as I recall, consisted of Mal Hickman, who was at that time Secretary of the Association of Commerce in Urbana; Jim O'Neil, a prominent insurance man of Champaign; and myself. We were disturbed about the death toll on the highways during the Fourth of July weekend, and during that time period. I mentioned that I had visited many cities in the course of my operations, and had noticed that a parade and fireworks really held the townspeople and it kept them off the highways.

Nothing more was said at that time but apparently Jim O'Neil, who was connected with the Chamber of Commerce in Champaign, thought enough of the idea to broach the subject to the Chamber of Commerce. About a month later, I received a phone call, asking me if I would consent to join the committee and take over the pyrotechnics of the operation. I said yes and we had many meetings. We had no money, however, and decided to each take a department, check, and get a cost for that department. We came up withy a total figure of around $8,500. But we still had no money, and the big question was how to get it.

Now here is where the man who really put this program over and has not received full credit for it entered the picture. His name is Phil Hundley of the News Gazette. He was the editor of the News Gazette, and not only controlled that newspaper but the radio station as well. He advertised the program in the newspaper and over the radio, and donations began to come in. The idea was taking hold, but we still did not have enough money.

Phil came up with the idea of having a porch light parade. We sectioned off the twin cities, Champaign and Urbana, and asked for volunteers to make the collections. Anyone who wished to donate would just put his or her porch lights on a certain night, and a car, truck or even a "duck" would pull up to their house and take the donation. Meanwhile, one of the mainstays of the entire project, Lyle Blue, was standing by taking notes and counting the money. He relayed the sum to Larry Stewart, who was the broadcaster of the radio station, and who did a yeoman job in keeping the townspeople aware of how the donations were coming in. He had announced that evening, if we made our goal, I would have Joe Porcheddu set off an aerial display at the radio station. Of course, in those days the radio station was out in the country south of town, and there were no houses around.

Joe came over with the aerial display, set up the mortars, and finally (I think it was around 11 o'clock that night) Larry Stewart announced that we had met our goal. I gave the word to Joe, and he set off the display. We were not entirely sure how this whole thing was going over, but Joe had set up a 24-inch panoramic bomb; and in the light of it, we saw that every farm road was lined bumper to bumper on both sides with people waiting to see the display. This gave us a clue, and we got a lot of heart from that, and went to work. From this humble beginning, the idea has mushroomed into the celebration you see today.

I would like to mention a few of the people who were invaluable in helping us ,such as Joe Blaze, who was head of security at the University of Illinois; Paul Cruikshank, who was instrumental in getting us the stadium after the first disaster of too long a parade and too small a place to seat people, the County Fairgrounds; Wallace Ewing; and many others. After so many years, it is hard for me to recall all of the names, but credit should be given to Clara Hodges, who took notes, on every meeting we had; Squeaky Ingleman, Alan Carter, and many other men and women. Credit for the revival of the Spirit of '76 in the parade should go to your own Board member, Ron Smith, who brought it back after it had been dropped for several years, and who can recall the fried chicken and ice cold pop and the bar in the back of the Lincoln under the stands.

In closing, may I say it has been a very rewarding experience for me, and my wish is that this celebration will never end.

 

See the volunteers for this year's Freedom Celebration. 

NOTES ON BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION JULY 4, 1976

By Ronald J. SmithBoard of Directors
The Fourth of July Freedom Celebration, Inc. had the responsibility of "sponsoring, promoting and directing a community-wide observance and celebration of the anniversary of the Declaration Of Independence in a manner that emphasizes the basic ideals and principles upon which the United States was founded. The observance to be non-commercial in nature without benefit to any individual."

The officers of this celebration began meeting in November of 1975 to elect new officers and assign committees. They continued until July 4, 1976.

The 1976 Committee and Chairpersons

President: Leonhard Doyle - Champaign
General Chairman: Norris Schlueter - St. Joseph
Board of Directors: Ronald J. Smith, Urbana
Dale Thuney, Urbana
Louis Stolz, Urbana
Samuel Leeper, Champaign
Treasurer: Tom Heinhorst, Champaign
Secretary: Cindy Schneider, Champaign
Parade Chairman: Chet Neff, Champaign
Asst. Parade Chairman: Jim Rogers, Champaign
Evening Chairman: Rodger McCormick, Urbana
Asst. Evening Chairman: Dick Berg, Champaign

Tom Heinhorst, Treasurer, reported that our receipts for 1976 totaled $38,000.00. Our disbursements were $20,000.00. This, plus a cash balance of $8,000.00 on hand from 1975, plus the $14,000 surplus in 1976 leaves us with a balance of $22,000.00 for the 1977 celebration. It should be noted that our main receipts ($13,000.00) are derived from door collections at the Stadium in the evening, and the largest expenditures are: the fireworks in the evening, $6,000; the University of Illinois bill for services rendered, $7,000.00; and $5,000.00 for the parade.

July 4, 1976, was a bright, clear and sunny day. Our parade began at 1:05 P.M. and the route was as follows: start at Coler and Green in Urbana, proceed West to First Street in Champaign, then proceed South on First to a point near Peabody Drive. The route was two miles long, as it has been for several years.

The parade included 170 units, consisting of floats, marching bands, clowns and many other groups, to bring enjoyment to those in attendance. Young and old alike came to view the parade and it was estimated that 75,000 to 100,000 people lined the route. The theme for the parade was "Sprit of '76"

In the evening, an estimated 45,000 people went to the Stadium to enjoy a varied program of entertainment which concluded with the traditional fireworks.

It is hoped that the above notes will be of interest to those of the future and give them an insight to the greatest Fourth of July celebration ever.

PAST EVENTS

 

Year Theme Grand Marshal Board President
2016 Celebrate America Tom Ramage *Alicia Lowrey
2015 Flying High for Freedom Rudy Frasca *Marie Polk
2014 Celebrating Community Volunteers United Way of Champaign Chris Bell
2013 United We Stand, Proudly We Serve Local Police & Fire Departments *Ginny Schlorff
2012 Celebrating our Youth Girl Scouts *Val Koble
2011 Discovering New Frontiers Wayne Weber *Margaret Givens
2010 150 Years of Local Heroes Katherine Ruetter Don Wauthier
2009 The Lasting Legacy of Lincoln Abraham Lincoln as played by Steve Shoemaker Scott Freidlein
2008 Honoring Our Military Heroes Marty Conatser Don Wauthier
2007 Celebrating Free Enterprise George Shapland Cathy McArthur
2006 Broadcasting our Freedoms Jim Manley Cathy McArthur
2005 Caring for our Community Judy Fraser Ken Horn
2004 America – Be All That You Can Be Ericka Harold John Olden
2003 Education, A Cornerstone of Freedom Dr. Zelema Harris Rick Kallmayer
2002 A Free Press, a Free People Marajen Chinigo Mike Kobel
2001 A Celebration of America's Parks and
Recreation
Robert Toalson *Val Koble
2000 Leading America into the Future James Stukel Greg Abbott
1999 Celebrating Years Gone By Past Presidents of CCFC Mike Brandt
1998     Dave Swan
1997 Help Others Reach the Stars Don Moyer Pete Elmer
1996 Builders of Pride Lou Henson George Krueger
1995 A Tribute to World War II Veterans of World War II (6 people) Pat Dixon
1994   Bonnie Blair Denny Birt
1993 Celebrate America   *Val Koble
1992 Americans: Patriots and Proud Wanda Lou Ziegler Bill Brunkow
1991 Stars and Stripes Forever   Ann Power Wildman
1990 The Bill of Rights: 200 Years of Freedom Frederick Green Claudia Friedman
1989 A Salute to Hometown Volunteers Volunteers from local service organizations Dick Moses
1988 Freedom First Larry Stewart Sue Dawson
1987 We the People... Richard Thies Tom Heinhorst
1986 America: Torchlight of Freedom Monique Baux Tom Costello
1985 Portraits in Patriotism Michelle Raymond, Terry Prinn &Terry Mulligan [vacant]
1984 A Salute to Champaign County's Winners   Mindy Slack
1983   John Neils Mark Netter
1982 American History on Parade Maj. Gen. Norma Brown, USAF Jane Henneman
1981 We the People /or/ Patriotic & Proud Emmerson Dexter Bill Brinkman
1980 Cherish the Past, Conserve the Future Joe Rider John Marshall
1979   Elvira Barringer Jim Rogers
1978 Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind Darth Vader Chet Neff
1977 It's a Small World Cookie Monster Norris Schlueter
1976 Spirit of 76 Bert Marrett *Leonard Doyle
1975 We the People   *Leonard Doyle
1974 Heritage at Home or Holiday at Home   Sam Leeper
1973 America is Children   Louis Stolz
1972 Happiness on America's Independence Day
or Happiness is ...
  Dale Thuney
1971 Keep America.... Ron Smith & Dale Thuney Ronald Smith
1970 America – The Possible Dream   Charles Metzel
1969 A Salute to America   Robert Woodworth
1968 One Hundred and Fifty Years of Progress   William Shoemaker
1967 Anniversary Time Honorary Co-chairmen: Maj. Gen. James E. Roberts,
USAF, and Pres. David Dodds Henry
Frank Schooley
1966     Wallace Ewing
1965     Jim Smith
1964 Salute to America   Glenn Kelley
1963     Theron Ingelman
1962     James Updike
1961     Dale Boyer
1960 Our American Heritage   Larry Stewart
1959     Jerry Dobrovolney
1958 Youth, Democracy, & Prosperity   Marion Cooper
1957     Lyle Blue
1956     Joe Blaze
1955     Paul Cruikshank
1954     Phil Hundley
1953     Otis Meyers
1952     Tom Larabee
1951     Jim O'Neil
1950     Jim O'Neil
* Active Board or Committee Member