Fourth of July celebration lacks community support

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Ted Sullivan
Monday, July 6, 2009
— The three-day Fourth of July festival in Janesville lacked attendance, collected few donations and lost thousands of dollars, an organizer said Sunday.

"It kind of makes me ashamed to be a member of the Janesville community when they don't come out and celebrate the freedom of this country," said Dale Stevenson, noble grand for the local Independent Order of Odd Fellows Wisconsin Lodge 14.

"To be honest, I don't know if we're going to have anything to do with it anymore," he said. "Maybe the community doesn't want it."

The Odd Fellows hosted Rock 'N' Thunder for the first time this year after the Janesville Jaycees lost its charter because of dwindling membership. The Odd Fellows didn't want the city to lose the celebration.

The group scaled back fireworks spending from $30,000 to $20,000, but it had only paid for one-quarter of the cost up front. The Odd Fellows hoped donations last weekend would pay the difference.

"It didn't go well. We didn't fare well on donations," Stevenson said. "We're very much in the red."

The numbers were unknown Sunday, but the Odd Fellows lost $10,000 to $20,000, he said.

The fireworks company has agreed to accept payments for the balance, Stevenson said, and the Odd Fellows will host fundraisers for more money.

Attendance was another problem, he said. About 1,000 people entered the gates.

Thursday's family night was sparsely attended, he said, and Friday wasn't much better.

"Saturday it picked up when the weather finally cleared," Stevenson said. "The weather didn't help us any that's for sure."

The festival had free admission, he said, and the Odd Fellows weren't trying to make money.

"We were just looking to pay for the event," Stevenson said.

The Odd Fellows set up a fund at Anchor Bank's two Janesville locations, and it had collection canisters and donations placards at businesses throughout the city.

Event hosts and sponsors also collected money during the event. Yet few people donated, Stevenson said.

It is unknown whether the weather, tough economy or lack of Fourth of July spirit hurt the community's support, he said. The Jaycees also had financial trouble hosting the show.

The carnival rides also didn't live up to expectations, even though twice as many rides as last year were expected, Stevenson said.

The carnival company was under contract with the Jaycees, but it booked another festival when the Jaycees announced they would not host the celebration, he said.

When the Odd Fellows took over, the carnival company agreed to come, but it didn't bring as many rides because it had double booked itself, Stevenson said.

"Not much we can do about it once they're there," he said. "They didn't live up to it."

The Odd Fellows would love to carry on the tradition of a Fourth of July celebration, but the group is unsure whether it will host again, Stevenson said.

"At this point in time, we'd be willing to consider any ideas, critiques or criticisms to make the event better to try and make it work for the community," he said.

The Gazette was unable to reach three other organizers of the event.

Last updated: 11:00 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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