A harsh reality, COVID-19 played havoc on scheduling plans for millions, cancelling vacation trips, halting family visits, and interfered with outings near and far, including a special one in South Pasadena.
The pandemic also threw a wrench in the works of a tradition dating back to 1982 when a small group in town, including then former Mayor Ted Shaw and Councilmember Dave Margrave, with little time on their side, decided to kick-start the 4th of July with a pancake breakfast, a parade and fireworks show.
It was called the Fourth of July Extravaganza back then in the days before becoming the Festival of Balloons.
Jane Apostol in her book, “South Pasadena – A Centennial History” wrote: “It may well have been the best Fourth of July celebration since 1912, when four thousand people swarmed to Garfield Park for a free barbecue. In 1982, a good part of the town marched in the Fourth of July parade, picnicked at Garfield Park, and watched fireworks at the high school athletic field.”
Led by former school Superintendent Tom Brierley, those on hand that day 40 years also enjoyed a jazz band performance, watched a demonstration by “Belker,” a K-9 and new member of the local police department, and cheered members of the City Council and the Board of Education, split into two teams engaged, as Apostol described, in “a vigorous new sport of trying to propel a suspended barrel by water shot from fire hoses.”
Ted and Joan Shaw, the latter at her husband’s side in helping launch the first Independence Day effort in the city, were selected as Citizens of the Year in 2008, and together rode the parade route to sincere appreciation, a waving throng, and thunderous applause, from those on the sidelines recognizing the Independence Day joy they had created.
Ted Shaw and Dave Margrave are now deceased, but their memories and impact on the day’s activities surrounding the holiday continue to be felt by their wives, Joan and Diane, family members and, of course, the community at large.
“It’s a great day because of them,” said Hernandez, who took over the role as chair this year from Joe Payne, a former South Pasadena police chief, who also dabbles in his share of contributions, all in an effort to make the city a better place.
Hernandez serves on the executive committee for the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and, like Payne, will be there at the drop of a hat to support the community’s Little League Baseball and Softball. “Countless,” Hernandez once said, when asked how many burgers he flipped behind the backstop at Orange Grove Park before placing them up, spatula in hand, to awaiting paper plates from customers eager to support the youth program.
Now, with Payne close at his side, Hernandez is in the driver’s seat, overseeing the city’s largest spectacle, ready to make the Festival of Balloons the best it can be.
It all starts with a pancake breakfast, hosted by the Kiwanis Club at the fire station from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by the opening ceremonies on the footsteps of the library community room at 10:30 a.m., the parade along Mission Street at noon, games and activities in Garfield Parking lasting until about 3 p.m., then the fireworks show at roughly 9 p.m.
“Struggle for Freedom, America’s Journey to Independence” will be the theme of this year’s parade. As part of the holiday weekend, a free 6:30 p.m. program, “We, Too, Are America,” is scheduled for July 3 inside the South Pasadena High School auditorium, and billed as thoughtful study of the country’s collective diversity. Produced by local actors James and Lissa Reynolds, the performance hopes to acknowledge the ancestry, and the diversity of everyone.
Hernandez encourages residents and visitors to the city to take in the Sunday night event before getting an early start with the return of the Festival of Balloons the next day.
“It’s just a great family tradition for 40 years,” explained Hernandez. “We’re just glad to be back after the unfortunate circumstances of the past two years with COVID, which forced its cancellation. We are looking forward to having it once again this year. I know people will want to come to it. It should be a great day!”