Whether you’d been coming for years or were first time visitors (in fact, even if you hadn’t expected to find music, food, games and fireworks at Wilmette’s Gillson Park when you planned your visit,) last week’s annual Independence Day celebrations seemed to be a hit with everyone.
Connie and Pat Moran only recently moved to Wilmette from Chicago, so last week’s July 3 schedule was a new adventure for them, they said as they took a food break between activities. They were game for it all – the music, the face painting, the children’s tent, the food vendors and, if they were lucky, the evening band concert and fireworks.
“We’re going to stay as long as we can,” Connie said, eyeing her one-year-old daughter Isabel, and son Charlie, two, and obviously measuring their appetites for prolonged holiday merry-making. “I figure we’ll be doing well to last a little while longer.”
Across the field, long-time residents Richard and Paulette Bruné waited in line for the Moon Walk tent, with son Marshall, daughter-in-law Stephanie, and three grandchildren; Peter, 4, Sophia, 2 and a half, and 11-month-old Joseph. Peter was waiting more or less patiently to bounce inside the tent, so the older generations got a chance to talk.
“I’ve been coming here for 20 years,” Marshall Bruné said. He and his family now live iin Tower Lakes, but make the trek to Gillson Park every year. “We come here every July Fourth.”
“July third,” his mother corrected.
“Right, July third. We love it,” he said, grinning. “We’re veterans.”
Artem Ozerov of Lake Zurich was another Gillson fan, but unlike the Morans or the Bruné clan, his attendance was a bit of a happy accident. He and friend Mary Larson, also of Lake Zurich, had only expected to enjoy the beach for a bit,
“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid, and I think it’s the most beautiful beach on the lake. You have the park, and you can look across at the Baha’i Temple,” he explained. “But I’ve never been here for the fireworks. Honestly, we didn’t even know all this was happening until we pulled in to the lot.”
Having discovered the festivities, Ozerov wanted to see the fireworks, and was working on convincing Larson to stay for the evening.
Nearby, a team of tired but cheerful Wilmette Park District employees and administrators manned the district’s information booth on Gillson’s west side.
“I was up at my usual time, so I’m OK, but Bill’s been here since 3 a.m. No, make that 2 a.m.,” District Director Steve Wilson said, pointing to district parks and planning superintendent Bill Lambrecht, one of the main architects of the Independence Day events.
Wilson said officials had fielded questions from a steady stream of patrons, some of them about the district’s proposed lakefront master plan. Visitors could look at architectural renderings of the plan proposals, and quiz Wilson and elected officials like Commissioner Gary Benz.
“We’ve gotten some good questions, some interesting questions,” Benz said.
Policy was not a concern for Sarah Fahey and Bethany Koudelka. The two park district employees will spend most of their summer as camp counselors, but they were on the job July 3 in the district’s games tent, cheering on youngsters who were trying their luck at bean bag tossing.
“It’s been great,” Fahey, of Wilmette, said. “The kids are a lot of fun.” Koudelka, of Des Plaines, agreed. Because she was a fireworks enthusiast, “I’ll probably stay to see them tonight,” she said.
This year’s fireworks show was particularly successful, thanks not only to new shells in the firing lineup, and a lack of wind, but a lack of humidity, “which really helps the colors pop,” Wilson said Monday.
“You know, the running joke around here is that after every fireworks display, I say ‘It was the best fireworks ever.’ Well, this year, I meant it wholeheartedly.”
Temperate weather was also good for attendance. On Monday, Wilson said park district officials put the July 3 crowd at Gillson itself at about 30,000. While that doesn’t match the record breaking crowds of some previous years, he said, it is above the average of about 25,000. It also doesn’t include people who watched the evening fireworks from elsewhere on the lakefront.
Wilson said the only fly in this year’s ointment was a longer waiting period for park patrons using Pace shuttle buses after the fireworks to get back to their cars.
Pace assigned the same number of buses to the July 3 shuttle – about 40 – as it traditionally does, “which is a phenomenal commitment. So with the same number of buses, we got some emails saying ‘I had to wait almost an hour’ to get a bus. That seems to indicate that more people are making use of the buses,” he said.
The fun didn’t end with the last bus. Wilson and many of his staff returned to Gillson early July 4 to set up the district’s July 4 four-kilometer “Four for the Fourth” fun run
More than 300 people registered for the run. That included four different age groups for a youth run, and the adult run, for participants 13 years of age and up.
“The cutest, and scariest, are the five and unders,” Wilson said, referring to the tots who took part in the district’s Pee-Wee Run. “They run, and there’s always one who takes a tumble, and you worry about them being hurt, but up they pop and go on. They’re pretty resilient at that age.”
The top adult runners July 4 were Christian Swenson, 17, of Evanston (men), who completed the course in 22 minutes; and Marie Schofer, 32, of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, (women) who finished in 23 minutes, 46 seconds. For more information on participants’ running times, visit http://results.active.com/events/wilmette-fun-run–12 or www.mychicagoathlete.com/ME2/.