Column: Community stepped up for fireworks show

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2001

Drivers dropped bills and change into buckets as volunteers walked up and down the street medians downtown.

Sunday, June 03, 2001

Drivers dropped bills and change into buckets as volunteers walked up and down the street medians downtown. Businesspeople came down and dropped off checks. And hundreds of people gave $5 or $10 to the cause.

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It all added up to $15,000 and, next month, another fantastic fireworks display.

When a town of 18,000 in a county of a little more than 30,000 can come up with that kind of cash in one day, you know it’s got to be a cause the people believe in.

Albert Lea takes its much-heralded fireworks show very seriously.

The yearly fundraising event for the Independence Day show was a little more eventful than usual Friday, thanks to some unpredictable weather. Hail the size of marbles came out of nowhere and pelted the crew that was collecting donations near the corner of Broadway and Main, and it could have hurt the Chamber’s chances of raising all $15,000 of their goal. But no. Right around 5 p.m., the guys on the radio announced that the goal had been reached.

The donations rolled in all day. There was the little girl who carried up a heavy bag full of pennies, which she had saved up to donate to the fireworks effort. When I was there, a check for $700 came in from Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen.

A few dollars at a time, with the ocassional big donation, the pot grew. It approached $10,000 around noon.

Allen Pelvit of the Chamber told me that the city of St. Cloud, much larger than Albert Lea, couldn’t manage to raise $18,000 for their fireworks show. Albert Lea’s support for its show is clearly something special.

It’s amazing that so many people are willing to donate. Other cities I’m familiar with pay for the fireworks out of the city budget, and the shows end up being decent. But here, not a dime of it has to come from the city, and they manage to raise enough cash to put on a sensational show.

What fundraising group wouldn’t love to have that kind of response? What could the United Way do if they averaged $15,000 per day during their fund drive? How much watershed cleanup could get done if the lake groups raised that kind of cash that fast?

The problem is that if you keep going to the well over and over, pretty soon you come back dry. People give selectively,and it’s clear that Albert Lea’s Fourth of July festivities are a crucial part of the city’s identity, a source of pride.

I can see why. One of my first defining moments in Albert Lea was July 4 last year. It was the day after my family and I moved into our house. In the evening, we took a break from unpacking boxes and hiked a few blocks to the shore of Fountain Lake, where we were told the fireworks show was taking place.

I was amazed to see thousands upon thousands of people lining the banks of the lake, sitting on blankets and lawn chairs, braving the humidity and mosquitoes as they waited for the show. The end of Broadway was packed with people from one end to the other as we made our way onto the hill near the lake.

The show began, and we were amazed. It was easily the best display I have ever seen, and it was only helped by the great location at Fountain Lake.

It’s becoming more and more clear that Albert Lea really knows how to put on a show. We do it as a community.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.