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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • On short notice, Harrisburg fireworks lit the night

  • Despite the Lions Club of Harrisburg being unable to continue to fund the annual Independence Day fireworks display, the fireworks went ahead as usual, thanks in no small part to the efforts of local resident and Army veteran John Okerson.
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  • Despite the Lions Club of Harrisburg being unable to continue to fund the annual Independence Day fireworks display, the fireworks went ahead as usual, thanks in no small part to the efforts of local resident and Army veteran John Okerson.
    Okerson, upon learning that the Lions Club could not fund the event this year, decided that fireworks at the Saline County Fairground was too important a tradition for Harrisburg to allow it to fade away. Okerson began a fund-raising campaign which was ultimately successful in raising over $9,000 towards the total $10,000 cost of the fireworks display.
    “I think I just started the ball rolling,” Okerson said shortly before the fireworks began on Saturday night. “Other people got involved and got it done.”
    Okerson said that upon learning of the cancellation of the event, he and several friends were discussing the news that evening.
    “Todd Moore, Randy Patton and I were talking and we decided to see if we could find a way to raise the funds and find a company to put on the display,” Okerson stated.
    Okerson is a member of the world-wide veterans organization, Team Red,White and Blue, which helps veterans reintegrate into their communities. Working with community and business leaders in cities around the world, Team Red, White and Blue helps veterans successfully return to civilian life after their service to their nations.
    “I am just overwhelmed by the response, the outpouring of assistance from the community,” Okerson said. “That's why this worked, was successful. This community is great!”
    Okerson said that the various media outlets and Facebook were key to the success of the fireworks project.
    “In a week, we got over 15,000 hits on our Facebook page and people from all over the country sent donations through the page. I think thats social media working for good, for the benefit of people. I don't think that we could have done this in a week without the local media and Facebook,” Okerson said.
    And a week was just about all the time the fundraisers had to gather funds and contact a pyrotechnic company to make arrangements for the display.
    “I started getting phone calls the day after the papers ran the story about the Lions Club not putting on the fireworks this year,” said Harrisburg City Council and Chamber of Commerce member Dale Fowler. “People thought that the city provided the fireworks, which it never did, and were very unhappy about the event being cancelled this year. The efforts of the Lions Club is a valuable asset to our city and I understand that they had to chose how to spend their funds for the greatest benefit to the community. Under Okerson's lead, the community came together, as it always does no matter the nature of the need, and got the job done. I'm very proud of our people.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Fowler added that in the next few days the city will be forming a committee to manage the fireworks display and has already gotten a number of calls from individuals and business interested in participating in this effort.
    Okerson said that he and Fowler met, “Almost every day” to coordinate fund-raising and that Fowler's assistance was a major part of the success that the effort achieved.
    “I want to thank all the business, organizations and individuals who donated time and money to keep this tradition going,” Okerson said. “The community really came together on this one.”
    Crowds were gathering and the parking lots were filling up by 6:45 p.m. Saturday evening as the citizens of the area arrived to enjoy the annual fireworks show. A number of food and craft vendors were set up on the fairground near the grandstand with families and couples strolling among the vendors, while excited children scampered through the crowd. Music was provided by the DJ show of Gil Rodriguez or DJ Rev as he is known. Interestingly, Rodriguez is a licensed minister and performs marriages in our area.
    At dusk, just before the fireworks began, the crowd got a real treat when A. J. Haney, Samantha 'Sam' Tanner and Cassi Chambers of the Harrisburg Fire Performers presented a fire dance show. Haney, owner and operator of Healthy Hoops, a Harrisburg business which manufactures and sells Hula Hoops, performed with a flaming hula hoop, while Tanner and Chambers performed the more traditional fire dance with balls of flame swung around their bodies on the end of short chains. The music pounded out rhythms, as the flaming hoop and balls of fire swung and twirled to the delight and wonderment of the audience.
    But the real treat was the fireworks display. This year, the company of Sky Magic Pyrotechnics from Brazil, Ind., provided the evening’s main entertainment. Sam Probst was the lead worker of the crew of three setting up and igniting the fireworks. Probst said that they planned for about a thousand airburst displays, along with a number of ground displays.
    “All but one set will be ignited by hand,” Probst said. “The old fashioned way.”
    Probst stated that the finale would consist of a set of 160 airbursts, rigged to ignite sequentially once the master fuse was lit.
    As darkness fell, several noisemakers boomed aloft and their thunderous detonations echoed and reverberated through the crowd. And then, the sky exploded with light. The muffled thud of the propelling charges was followed quickly by the roaring explosion of the bursting charges as colors and patterns of flaming light dazzled the eyes and fired the imaginations of the spectators. Ground displays fired off, glowing in burning showers of multi-colored beauty, with white hot trails of fire snaking through the sky to thrill the senses of the audience.
    Page 3 of 3 - The finale lit off without a hitch and burst after burst of light followed each other to flower in the sky, the ohh's and ahh's of the crowd changing to a swelling thunder of applause as the audience gave vent to cries of delight and wonder at the sight of the magnificently beautiful fireworks.
    As the crowds departed that night, a sense of contentment and appreciation was palpable in the air. The community had kept a tradition going, truly a memorable Fourth of July for Harrisburg.
    The Daily Register would like to express it's appreciation to Harrisburg Police Officer Mike Sullivan. His generous assistance to the Register was invaluable in covering Saturdays fireworks show.

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