By Tiffany Cooke
With any Fourth of July event, one can expect – at the least – fireworks and a parade. Pekin, IN makes no exception to this, keeping up old traditions at the Pekin Fourth of July Celebration.
At 8 a.m. on July 4, decorated floats and patriotic residents gathered in Eastern High School’s parking lot for the parade line-up. By 10 a.m., they took to the streets.
Antique and classic cars, horses, tractors, four-wheelers and motorcycles, military equipment, fire and rescue vehicles, and ornamented cars, trucks, and trailers made appearances in the parade. Some walked, some rode, and most threw candy and popsicles to children that eagerly swarmed the sides of the road.
The theme of the 2019 Pekin Fourth of July Parade was Stars, Stripes and Dreams. Participators and spectators alike decked themselves out in red, white and blue. Tisha Coles coordinated the event, and Roger L. Newlon stood as the grand marshal.
People from across the county, state, and even the country can be found at this celebration, but to some, the parade means more than just free candy and interesting floats.
Ray Owen and his family live in downtown Pekin, and their house has stood on the parade route for 31 years. To them, the parade is not just a celebration for the Fourth, but a reunion with their family and friends.
“The only strangers I usually see are guests that my family and friends bring.” Mr. Owen said. “I love being on the route. We always tease and say we live on prime Pekin real estate.”
Owen grew up in Louisville, KY, but has a long line of family ties from Pekin. He remembers visiting Pekin as a child, and he loved friendly small-town environment, like when people waved along the road as they passed through.
Since moving to Pekin, hosting friends and family at the parade has become a tradition. The celebration, now even more popular than when he first moved on the route, has led him to make accommodations to his property so that all are welcome. He cleans out half of his barn and installs temporary air conditioners for a cool and close place for those who want to watch.
In his opinion, community is what sets Pekin’s Fourth of July Celebration above others.
“There’s an overwhelming community involvement,” Owen said. “The whole town shuts down to keep it going.”
Though the parade is important to him because it’s a chance to meet up with old and new friends and is a staple of the place he calls home, it also has had a much larger impact on his life.
His favorite Fourth memory was when he was sixteen and he fixed up bikes for his brother and cousin to ride. That same year, he took a girl with him to the parade. The next day, they started dating.
Now, she is his wife and together, they celebrate the Fourth each year the same way they came together – with the parade.
The parade lasted over an hour, but to Owen and his family, it will last the whole day with fellowship and fun. Though he says he hardly ever leaves his yard on July 4, the celebration is something he looks forward to each year because of the old memories it brings back, and the new ones it creates.