Aqua Jays might organize city's 4th of July festivities

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November 13, 2009
— On the same day the local Odd Fellows announced they wouldn't host the city's 2010 Fourth of July celebration, the Rock Aqua Jays were forming a committee to explore the possibility of taking over.

"Our organization is very seriously considering taking on organizing and hosting the Fourth of July festivities in Janesville,'' said Joel Shapiro, Aqua Jays president.

The Wisconsin Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge 14 and its Rebekah Lodge announced Wednesday they "will not be organizing the Fourth of July festivities in Janesville for 2010.''

The decision was made "with great regret" because of a lack of response from 300 letters sent in August to local businesses asking for financial help.

Noble Grand Dale Stevenson declined to say how many past and potential sponsors responded to the pledge letter and how much money was pledged.

"I don't know if the lack of response was due to lack of interest or the economy. We both know the Jaycees struggled with it for years,'' he said.

"We decided to let go and are hopeful somebody else or organization can take it on,'' he said.

That might happen.

The Aqua Jays has done preliminary work and knows it likely would apply a different model to how the celebration is organized and run, Shapiro said.

The committee will explore whether the Aqua Jays has the resources to put on such an event. If it decides it does, the group most likely would re-brand the celebration as more of a river fest type of an event, he said.

But the Aqua Jays don't want to get people's hopes up, Shapiro said.

"If we're going to do this, we have to minimize our risks. We just can't afford to lose any money on an event after what we've just been through the last couples years with flooding," Shapiro said.

An advantage for the Aqua Jays is their experience and success hosting big events. The hometown team has hosted national show ski championships nearly two dozen times—more than any other water ski club in the country. The club will do it again in August and is placing a bid this weekend to be the host site in 2011, too.

"Obviously, we have a pretty good track record of hosting events," Shapiro said.

The Odd Fellows took over organizing Fourth of July festivities from the Janesville Jaycees, who hosted the event for many years. But at the end of 2008, the Wisconsin Jaycees dissolved the Janesville Jaycees charter because it didn't have enough members.

The Odd Fellows took over in 2009 but lost $16,000 while hosting a three-day celebration. The group still owes $10,000. The loss has had a huge financial impact on the group and the community, Stevenson said.

"We are having to pay our debts, as far as the Fourth of July. That (money) could have been used helping the community and different charities we donate to and hold fundraisers for. Now, we're not able to give as much as we'd like to,'' he said.

The Odd Fellows started planning for 2010 Fourth activities as quickly as 2009 festivities ended.

"We were hoping we'd be able to find enough benefactors in the community, but that didn't come to fruition," Stevenson said.

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