Garner area celebrates Independence

kjahner@newsobserver.comJuly 8, 2014 

— Despite an early rain threat in Garner, weather ultimately cooperated for the town’s biggest event of the year on July 3. Meanwhile sparkling weather greeted Cleveland’s day-long festivities on July 4, though crowds and participation have fallen off over the years.

Thousands gathered at Lake Benson Park on the night before Independence day to play games, listen to patriotic songs and watch a fireworks show.

Rain threatened the event and even fell sporadically, causing volunteers at the shuttle area to announce at one point that the fireworks show had been canceled.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. The show went on despite the threatening weather, even as the rain started to fall heavily during the fireworks display.

Event organizer Jill McAlister said the event proved popular with visitors.

“We had people telling us they were glad we kept things going, despite the weather,” McAlister said.

Children took their turns at a game of tug of war and other fun pursuits, while adults opted for the less strenuous enjoyment of listening to the music.

When the crowd was encouraged to take part in the All-America City shuffle, though, young and old alike got up and got their groove on.

Just before dusk, the North Carolina Symphony took the stage and performed a number of patrotic songs before the lights were dimmed for a fireworks show.

This year’s Independence Day celebration marked an unofficial end to Garner’s year as an All-America City. Though the town retains the title from 2013 in perpetuity, a new class of cities was named last month.

‘Ain’t what it used to be’

Cleveland, a smaller community than Garner, has celebrated the holiday in similar fashion since 1996. A parade in the morning leads to activities at various booths, a softball game, music and eventually fireworks.

Cookie Pope, who organized the first one, said about 1,500 showed up to see the fireworks as expected.

“We had great weather, great participation, and a wonderful event,” Pope, a Johnston County Commisioner, said of the day.

Over the last few years, though, the attendance of the parade and the number of booths opened by community organizations during the day have declined.

“The community involvement just ain’t what it used to be,” said Ray Corbett, a local preacher who worked at the West Johnston High School band’s booth.

This year, just four booths opened up at the site near the ballfields on Cleveland School Road.

“We don’t have any shade. We’re right out in the open, nad it gets hot in the middle of the dya. Plus it was a three-day weekend, and a lot fo people opted not to participate in the vending,” Pope said. “It never was intended to be a grandiose event. It was intended to be a simple way of expression of pride in our community.”

The parade leading into the festivities “was bigger than last year, but not as big as years in the past,” according to volunteer Cleveland fireman Seth Knott. His father, vice president of the Greater Cleveland Athletic Association and organizer of the pick-up softball game, also said things have changed.

“Usually you can’t see nothing but the roof of the building because there’s so many people,” Michael Knott said as he pointed toward the old school building and the Cleveland Johnston Community College building.

Corbett attributed an influx of area newcomers to the decline in community involvement, in particular people from the North.

The softball game did draw dozens of players. Some of the players’ children as well as significant others watched in the stands.

Many referred to it as the first time they’d picked up a softball since last year’s game.

“We have to watch the kids play 364 days a year,” Russell Power quipped regarding a tradition that’s been going on for at least 16 years.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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