The rapid spread of coronavirus, forcing cancelation and postponements all across the world, will hit home in a major way this summer with the announcement that the Festival of Balloons (FOB) 4th of July in South Pasadena won’t be held in 2020.
After consulting with Sheila Pautsch, the city’s community services director, Festival of Balloons’ Chair Joe Payne sent a message to FOB committee members Saturday night informing them as a result of COVID-19 the annual celebration, including a parade that draws thousands, has been scratched.
“This is really difficult,” wrote Payne. “With the obvious social distancing rules expected to stretch into summer, Pyro Spectacular’s limitations still in place, and a slowed construction schedule at the high school, any of these issues would have been fatal.”
Following state and county orders, the ban of large gatherings could still be in place when Fourth of July rolls around. Pyro Spectacular, which presents the fireworks show inside the stadium at South Pasadena High, traditionally asks for a deposit on the estimated $21,000 cost, which would have been a stretch for organizers, as ticket sales to pay for a bulk of it. With attendance in question as a result of the virus, raising enough to reach that figure would have been in doubt. In the middle of it all is the athletic facility at the high school, which is receiving a massive makeover with a portion of a $98 million bond measure approved by local voters, calling for improvements to the school’s two gymnasiums, a redesign of the area from the stadium to the pool and baseball field. New outdoor basketball and tennis courts, visitor bleachers, a new field house, featuring a training, film room and storage, are all in the plans. School District officials say they hope to complete the project in late summer or early fall, but recognize the coronavirus outbreak could interrupt its scheduled opening.
In addition, with the committee not meeting on a regular basis to organize the parade, activities in Garfield Park and fireworks show, Payne and Pautsch understand it would have been difficult to pull off even if the state and county lifted the “Safer at Home” order.
South Pasadena’s first Festival of Balloons was held in 1982, spearheaded by civic leaders Ted Shaw and Dave Margrave, both deceased. In March, the last time the FOB committee met, Joan Shaw and Diane Margrave, the wives of the two men who founded the hometown event, as the grand marshals of the now defunct 2020 Festival of Balloons. “I have spoken to Joan Shaw and Diane Margrave and both are excited to be next year’s grand marshals,” Payne wrote in his correspondence to committee members.
Following February’s FOB meeting, a concerted effort was made to draw more people to an aging committee, comprised of some individuals who had served for up to 25 to 30 years.
A roomful of residents, anxious to lend a hand to an organization in dire need of support, turned out in big numbers March 11 at the City Council Chambers at City Hall determined to see the show go on.
After word got out that the Festival of Balloons’ committee, made up of volunteers who have worked tirelessly on South Pasadena’s homespun Fourth of July over the years, was sputtering along and seeking help, about 30 new community members filled the room anxious to revive one of the city’s most treasured attractions.
They came from all walks of life, including some involved in many of South Pasadena’s best run organizations ready to lend a hand – South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF), Women Involved in South Pasadena Action (WISPPA) and the D.U.D.E.S. – Dads Uniting Dads in Education and Service, to name just a few.
Standing at the podium looking over the roomful of volunteers, Payne, who along with his wife, Joan, has been a part of spectacle for more than 30 years, was genuinely moved by the overall response, especially in light of the meeting one month before that drew a mere five board members, causing some, including City Councilmember Diane Mahmud, sitting in as the liaison to the council, to wonder if the FOB should be held this year when few showed up to make it happen.
Soon the trumpets were sounded through the local press, social media, an email blast and a call for action by Mahmud at the March 4 City Council meeting. Show up, she minced in so many words, or one of South Pasadena’s finest days of the year will go away.
The large, energized gathering at the March meeting was just what the older, longstanding mainstays needed, providing new energy, spirit and ideas, helping to kick-start an event that needed drastic support.
“Wow, I’m thrilled beyond belief,” Payne exclaimed, welcoming the audience. “Thank you very, very much for coming. This is a tremendous response. I am really humbled by the turnout.”
Thoughts were expressed on how to fill a funding gap, specifically coming up with the funds for the high-priced fireworks along with other expenditures associated with the event, including the printing of tickets and posters.
Individuals were given an opportunity to weigh in on two key elements – the grand marshals and theme of the parade – before the committee gave a show of hands. Earning the high honor were Diane Margrave and Joan Shaw, unanimous selections selected as grand marshals while earning accolades for being with it from the beginning.
“It’s important to recognize the wives of the two founding members of the Festival of Balloons,” said Payne.
The group also selected “Volunteers – Better Together,” as the theme of the parade during that March meeting, recognizing so many local citizens who give up their time to make events happen in the community.
Volunteers are the heart of a healthy community, stressed Payne, and South Pasadena has plenty of them, including those who impacted the March Festival of Balloons meeting, giving new life to an event that now looks to flourish again in 2021.
“There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm with a lot of great ideas,” said Payne about the large turnout looking to get behind the effort. “Those of us who have been with it for a longtime are stuck in a rut. We need some new blood, new ideas, and new discussion. Some of the people who were there are new to the city while others grew up in the town, were in the parade when they were kids and just want to be a part of it and make sure it continues for many years to come.”
Jim Anderson is one of those who have been around for years serving on the Festival of Balloons’ committee and is now anxious to relinquish his role to someone younger.
“It was very heartwarming,” he said when asked what it was like to see so many new faces at the meeting, knowing the time has come to pass the torch for some. “I think we [the old guard] all felt like ‘people really do appreciate the committee, the parade’ and the work we have done. It’s great to get new support.”
Now the longtime organizers hope those new on the scene will continue to show their enthusiasm and keep the ball rolling well into the future. In the meantime, Payne wants those who have stuck with the committee over the years to know he appreciates their dedicated service. Once the “Safer at Home” restrictions end, he promises the committee will reconvene focusing on 2021, making plans for a full day of fun featuring a pancake breakfast, opening ceremonies on the footsteps of the South Pasadena Library Community Room, the parade down Mission Street, followed by music, games and food in Garfield Park before culminating with fireworks lighting up the sky.
“Thank you for all your devotion to the FOB year after year,” he documented in his message to a loyal committee. “It is truly a joy to work with each and every one of you.”