Bruce Baumberger has been personally involved in half of the 100 celebrations put on by the Evanston Fourth of July Association.
A highly-involved volunteer since 1972, and now trustee emeritus of the association, Baumberger said this year’s fireworks show had to be the best ever.
“I’ve been watching Evanston fireworks for more than 50 years,” Baumberger told Evanston Now, and the pyrotechnic display Tuesday “was the all-time most spectacular.”
Add in the morning games for kids, afternoon parade and evening band concert, and Baumberger said “the community was exhilarated about the opportunity to come together for a traditional Fourth of July celebration.”
This was the first “normal” 4th since 2019. 2020 and 2021 saw COVID-related cancellations. Last year’s parade and fireworks were also cancelled due to the mass shooting in nearby Highland Park.
Both city and parade officials were unsure what impact, if any, the Highland Park tragedy would have on attendance in Evanston this year.
“We were concerned with what the public reaction might be,” Baumberger said.
Plus, there had been several other mass shootings around the nation within the past few days.
However, Baumberger said there did not appear to be any noticeable drop-off in Evanston attendance this year.
Evanston police, he said, added extra staff for parade and fireworks security.
“I think that everyone felt very secure the entire day,” Baumberger noted, to the extent that “it seemed half of Evanston was in the parade, and the other half was watching.”
There were about 80 entrants in the parade. In some years there have been as many as 120, but Baumberger said the key is “quality, and diversity, not just quantity.”
Getting the parade and fireworks back in person, Baumberger said, helped generate enthusiasm for more volunteers, who are needed to plan and run 4th of July events in the future.
“We now have a cadre of people to call upon to develop, in terms of leadership,” he noted.
“There is a very firm foundation in place” at the Association.
Baumberger also said the excitement and success of this year’s event might also lead to more financial contributions. The Fourth of July Association is an all-volunteer group that runs the festivities without city funding.
And, after taking a few days off, and sharing a few celebratory hugs, it will soon be time to start planning for next year’s celebration … and some potentially big changes will apparently be studied, although not necessarily implemented.
Nationwide media reports, in both the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have noted that fireworks discharge particulate matter which can be unhealthy to breathe.
Locations such as Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colorado (a college town like Evanston) switched to synchronized drone shows, and Minneapolis had a laser display.
Baumberger said the Fourth of July Association will at least look into alternatives to fireworks.
“It’s a delicate area,” he said, “but we are always looking at ways to improve the celebration and are open to innovation.”
In a progressive town such as Evanston, where environmental issues have a definite political constituency, Baumberger said “as we think of our environment, we need to look very carefully at future celebrations.”
That does not necessarily mean the “boom” of fireworks will be replaced by the “whirrr” of drones. It just means that the folks in charge of the show are at least going to think about options.
In fact, despite the 4th of July’s great traditions, the big celebration underwent a big change about four decades ago. That’s when Baumberger and the group switched the fireworks show from a paid event at Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field), to a free event at the lakefront.
So modifications can happen.
“Our association has been serving the community for a century, and we have every intention of doing it for another century,” Baumberger said, with pride.