An aging group of volunteers who have donated a considerable amount of time to the success of the Festival of Balloons – South Pasadena’s 4th of July celebration – are concerned the highly popular event for nearly 40 years could come to an end without an infusion of help from a younger populace.
“We need new blood,” simply stated Joe Payne, a past president for the committee that meets monthly to organize the full day that features a pancake breakfast, opening ceremonies on the footsteps at the South Pasadena Library Community Room, a parade down Mayberry-like Mission Street, music, games, activities in Garfield Park and a lively, yet increasingly expensive fireworks show, from the local high school football field.
For the mere five volunteers who turned out for last week’s organizational meeting, it felt like the air went out of the red, white and blue balloons that traditionally hang on the light poles along the parade route. The small gathering met two days following a celebration of life at Holy Family Church for the late Ted Shaw, a local businessman, civic leader and the brainchild with some friends behind the first Festival of Balloons back in 1982. A quorum of eight was necessary to carry out the meeting, which ended with some questioning the future of Fourth of July in South Pasadena.
“This was Ted Shaw’s dream,” said Payne, noting that before it became the attraction it has become, July 4th in town started out as Youth Day and Scout Parade. “Ted was finally able to make it the Festival of Balloons, and make it a great event. But the majority of the committee has been here since its inception and it needs new people, we need new ideas. There are so many people who participate in the parade but there are so few people who actually make it happen.”
About 20 people serving on the committee are putting in long hours, making it a major spectacle, one of the largest events in the city that take place like clockwork year after year.
“We’re all very fortunate that all the committee members we do have are very dedicated to the Festival of Balloons and the fireworks show,” noted Payne. “But we’re getting to the point with the deficit in funds, if it continues the way it’s going it will cease to exist, and that would be a shame.”
With all expenses, including the fireworks show in the upwards of $21,000, it costs an estimated $40,000 annually to host the city’s Independence Day, according to South Pasadena Community Service Director Sheila Pautsch, after factoring in traffic enforcement, providing the sound, and public works expenses associated with closing a large number of streets.
South Pasadena City Council members provide some financial assistance through discretionary donations, but a bulk of the funding comes through ticket sales for the fireworks show or committee members like the Shaw family, whose insurance firm in the city has printed the fireworks tickets over the years.
“All the costs are going up,” said Payne. “We have tried years and years to keep the cost of the fireworks show down so that an entire family could attend without breaking the bank.”
An emergency Festival of Balloons meeting is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on March 11 inside the South Pasadena City Council Chambers, 1414 Mission Street, in the city. The meeting is open to the public.
Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud, who was in attendance at last week’s regularly scheduled 4th of July committee meeting and as the liaison to the City Council, made a suggestion to contact all of the organizations in town, from the Rotary to Kiwanis, the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, the D.U.D.E.S. and community groups that participate in the parade and get at least one volunteer from each to support the organization to keep the Festival of Balloons alive.
Like Payne, Pautsch and a dedicated few, Mahmud hopes to see some fresh faces supporting the parade at the March 11 meeting.
“It would be a tragedy to allow the parade to go into hiatus,” she said. “In light of Ted’s passing it would be a tragic way to remember his loss. The parade is so emblematic of a small town where half the town is in the parade and half the town is watching the parade. I know it’s an exaggeration but that is how it really feels. It’s such a wonderful testament to our sense of community and truly would be at a loss to not be able to put on the parade.”