Is there any place more American than Clear Lake on the 4th of July?
Clear Lake on the 4th of July is parades and marching bands; it’s cotton candy in your hair and kids comparing the color of their Kool-Aid moustaches.
Clear Lake on the 4th of July is a ride on the Ferris wheel with your sweetheart; it’s an early morning walk by the seawall while the tourists are still sleeping.
Clear Lake on the 4th of July harkens of patriotism like a John F. Kennedy speech:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. — President John F. Kennedy
And it’s as much fun as an Erma Bombeck picnic:
“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.” — Erma Bombeck
Clear Lake on the 4th of July is pure Norman Rockwell.
It celebrates the best of America — remembering both the burdens and the cost of liberty, while greeting, with reckless abandon, the joy of freedom. And if your fingers get a little sticky from the lemonade and funnel cakes, so much the better.
For Alice Hanley, chairperson of the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce’s 4th of July Committee, creating a celebration that families will cherish and remember is her driving motivation. Hanley has been chairing the event for 15 years and draws upon her own childhood memories to make a celebration that brings people of all ages together for a good time.
“I grew up in Hanlontown, a small town north of here. However, we always got to come to Clear Lake over the 4th of July — it was just a highlight of the whole summer,” she recalls.
For her, the memories of Clear Lake on the 4th of July are mainly simple things — but simple times are often the best times for young families.
“At the time, we didn’t have a lot of money, but we could ride on two rides. We would ride on the merry-go-round, and then my sister, my dad, and I got to ride the Ferris wheel together, so I had some really special memories, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy working on this committee. It’s hopefully making some memories for some other little boys and girls out there,” Hanley explains.
Families, today, can still find lots of low-cost and even free entertainment to enjoy at Clear Lake’s 4th of July celebration.
“We try to have at least two ‘Wrist Band Days’ that makes it more affordable for families,” she notes.
This year, Wrist Band Days are set for Friday, July 5 and Sunday, July 7, which is also Family Fun Day with carnival discounts from noon to 5 p.m. each day. This year’s carnival also marks the 40th anniversary of Evans United Shows providing all the carnival fun at City Park.
During Family Fun Day on Sunday, the ever-popular Family Feud Game Show will return at 1 p.m., and then followed at 3 p.m. by Family Fun time, with old fashioned games and activities for the whole family.
Of course, the best, free fun of all has to be a tie between the fireworks on the evening of the 4th and the parade that kicks off the day in the morning.
“We have a wonderful fireworks display that doesn’t cost anything for people. There is great entertainment in the band shell, and it’s also free to the public. We’re very, very thankful for our generous sponsors and the folks who donate to the fireworks and the businesses who cover the cost of the entertainment,” Hanley adds.
Crowds for the annual Clear Lake 4th of July parade have drawn crowds sometimes estimated between 40,000 to 60,000. Over the years, scores of Iowa governors, state officials and national political figures have sought out the parade as an excellent venue for meeting the people. In recent years, perhaps the biggest names to walk down Main Avenue were former President Bill Clinton and wife Hillary, former first lady, former U.S. Senator from the state of New York, former U.S. Secretary of State, and former and likely future Democratic contender for president.
But it’s not the national names that parade organizers are focused on this year. In 2013 the parade will honor “Hometown Heroes.” After all, in America, one need look no further than across the street to find someone willing to go a little out of his or her way to help a neighbor.
“When you think of ‘Hometown Heroes,’ it can be military or service personnel, but it’s also the law officers, it’s the fire and rescue department, it’s the volunteers that we have. It’s just local citizens that love their town and help their neighbors; to me, those people are all heroes,” Hanley says.
Fittingly enough, the 2013 Parade Grand Marshals have given both service to nation and service to community.
“We’re very, very thrilled to have Gene and Bobbe Madson as our grand marshals. Folks around Clear Lake know Gene and Bobbe because they do so much for the community,” she adds.
From helping with the 4th of July in the past, to planting flowers and mowing public spaces, to organizing memorials to veterans, and even to cleaning up after Santa and his reindeer, Gene and Bobbe are a couple unafraid of a little hard work.
Hanley goes so far as to call Gene, “Mr. Christmas,” for his work with the annual Christmas by the Lake celebration.
Gene has chaired the event since its inception in 1995. And while Clear Lake used to be a tourist town only in the summer months, Christmas by the Lake is one of several events that has truly transformed it into a destination city year-round.
But Gene is reluctant to take any credit simply for himself. This is one couple who take their volunteer efforts as a joint vocation. And calling it a ‘vocation’ seems appropriate, as these two people clearly feel called to serve their community.
“The way I feel about it, and I know that Bobbe feels the same way, is that Clear Lake has been good to us over the last 45 years that we’ve been here; it’s a great place to live, a great place to work. We’ve raised two boys here. It’s just something that we want to do, to give back,” Gene explains.
Their projects have included landscaping on the corner of Eighth Street and Main Avenue, as well as the Triangle on South Shore Drive.
Veterans memorials are also near and to dear to their hearts, as Gene was instrumental in memorials at the All Vets Golf Course, as well as downtown. Working to enhance the memorial downtown, a concrete pier that held only a 3’ by 5’ flag now features a more substantial granite base that hoists a 10’ by 15’ flag.
At the base, veterans from all conflicts and branches of service are remembered, and as with the original concrete pier, tribute is paid to SP4 John H. Wrisberg III, who lost his life Jan. 16, 1968, serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam — the only Clear Lake soldier to die in that war.
Gene is also a Vietnam War veteran, having served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps and 13 months in South Vietnam in 1965 and 1966.
But if Gene is humble about his community service, he is more so about his military service. Together with his wife, Bobbe, the focus is on the here and now, celebrating the joy of freedom and life abundant in Clear Lake.
“I’ve been half way around the world — being in the Marine Corps, and being on the East Coast and the West Coast — and there isn’t any finer place than right here,” he says.
And, as for Bobbe, she knows how to celebrate the 4th of July and can’t think of a better place to do so than right here at home.
“Gene and I have a tradition of riding our bikes downtown on one of the days the carnival is here. We walk around, we get our foot longs, corn dogs and lemonade. And then we ride the Ferris wheel. We’ve done that for years, and that’s my favorite part of it. We love that tradition,” she notes.
Clear Lake on the 4th of July is a little bit Kennedy, a little bit Bombeck, pure Americana — it celebrates the freedoms won, with the good life offered up in the land of the brave.
And if the potato salad gets “a little iffy,” let ’em eat funnel cake!