Janesville51.4°

Odd Fellows to be new host of Janesville’s Fourth of July celebration

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
February 14, 2009
— Out with the old.

And in with the new.


The decades-old tradition of the Janesville Jaycees hosting the Fourth of July celebration in Janesville has come to an end.


This Independence Day, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Wisconsin Lodge 14, hope to organize the fireworks and other activities.


“Even though we are still rebuilding after a major act of vandalism and fire, we are honored to have the opportunity to continue the history of providing this patriotic custom with our community,’’ Barry Golden, event chairman, said in a press release.


The Odd Fellows are working with former Jaycees members, “to make the event structured as much like it has been yet are also looking at ways to improve,” co-chair Cathy Comstock said in the press release.


The location of the festival has not been decided, but event organizers said Traxler Park and the Janesville Youth Sports Complex—host sites in the past—are being considered.


The celebration likely would include a carnival, food and retail vendors plus a beverage tent on Friday and Saturday, July 3 and 4. A family fun/youth night with no beer sales is being considered for Thursday, July 2, according to the press release.


Janesville no longer has a Jaycees chapter.


The Wisconsin Jaycees at the end of 2008 dissolved the Janesville Jaycees charter, which dated to the 1930s, because it didn’t have enough members to meet the minimum requirement for a valid charter, said Joel Thorn, lifetime honorary member and long-time pyrotechnician for the group’s Fourth of July fireworks.


Jaycees membership dwindled to a handful last summer when “it was a real struggle manpowerwise” to put on the holiday celebration, Thorn said.


Thorn was approached by the Odd Fellows a couple months ago to help them organize this year’s event. He’s in the process of becoming a local lodge member and would continue as the event pyrotechnician and would work with the same fireworks crew, he said.


Thorn is confident the Odd Fellows, which have been an active service organization in Janesville since 1847 and have been housed in the same downtown building for 150 years, would run a successful event.


“They are a well-established, very well-organized group with definitely more members (than the Jaycees had) and have a lot of motivation. They’re also working at tweaking the event to make it better. Through their management style and approach, I think in the long run they’ll make it more profitable, too,’’ Thorn said.


The city would be asked to continue to support the event by providing police and fire protection and availability of park grounds. The celebration and fireworks, however, are not funded by tax dollars or any government funding, organizers stressed.


City Parks Director Tom Presny said The Odd Fellows have gotten copies of the two forms they need to get city permission to host the festival.


The special events and financial gain forms must be turned in 30 days before the event, but Presny thinks the Odd Fellows will do so sooner. That would give city officials and police plenty of time to talk about traffic, parking and facilities for the event, Presny said.


The city council would have to approve the two forms.


It will be up to the Odd Fellows to decide which site would be best for their festival, Presny said. The city doesn’t have a preference, he said.


Presny is happy the group has stepped up to keep the Fourth of July celebration going and is interested to see if a new host will bring a new look to the event.


“This is a nice community celebration, and we’re delighted that this organization is coming in to continue the traditions of the past,” Presny said.


Event organizers plan to contact local businesses for support and to create donation sites around town. They have established an account to accept donations at Anchor Bank and plan to eventually take donations through their Web site, www.wisconsinlodge14wi.org.



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