Evanston 4th of July Association looking ahead to first in-person event since 2019

The Evanston 4th of July Association is beginning planning for the first in-person celebration since 2019 after years of cancellations.

The 2020 and 2021 events did not occur because of COVID-19.

The celebration last year, the centennial anniversary of the organization, was cut short when organizers were informed of the deadly shooting at the Highland Park parade earlier that morning. Evanston was one of many cities that canceled their celebrations that day out of extreme caution. Parade participants had been lined up to begin marching when word of the mass shooting came from Evanston police.

“It’s disappointing for everyone — kids, adults, the celebration team,” Evanston Fourth of July Association’s Celebration Manager Jamie Black said at the time. “It’s just terribly disappointing. We’re supposed to be celebrating the birthday of this country, but somebody had to put a damper on it.”

The association fulfilled all the contracts signed for the event, though there were setbacks in their fundraising opportunities. Usually, donations are collected during the all-day event and without it being held, donations came up short.

Evanston Fourth of July Association Trustee Emeritus Bruce Baumberger said the group is working to renew their endowment in order to make up for the loss.

Baumberger, who served several positions during his 50 years with the organization, said that planning is going forward with hopes to include those who were supposed to walk in the 2022 parade.

“We want to make this year’s celebration really special, but also make sure it helps rebuild our community networks, boost diversity and strengthen our neighborhoods.” Evanston Fourth of July Association Board President Tracy Alden said in a news release. “We’d like to return to ‘normal,’ but better.”

The organization began in 1922 and helped create the holiday celebration, which went through several changes over the years. Prior to 1979, the organization sold tickets to the show that was held at what is now Ryan Field. Baumberger was with the group when he suggested the celebration move to the lakefront to expand people’s ability to attend.

“What a glorious location for fireworks!” he said. “It really made a big, big change.”

Ever since, the celebration has been held on the lakefront and been funded by donations. Costs average about $75,000 a year according to Baumberger.

The city works in partnership with the organization to provide public works, police and fire presence as well as other security needs but the city does not contribute monetarily.

In response to the shooting, increased focus has been placed on gun safety in the area. Moms Demand Action has helped bolster discussion of the topic in several surrounding suburbs including Winnetka, Wilmette and Glencoe.

When asked if there were any plans in motion for safety at this year’s celebration, Evanston police didn’t have anything concrete as of yet.

The organization is also establishing a leadership program, called Living the Declaration, to help fill the board as spots open up. 10 mentors will be able to participate and be trained on resources they need to succeed as board members and community leaders. They are hoping to target young people in the community and get them involved.

“We’re looking to build our diversity, equity and inclusion and develop a younger generation of leaders who reflect the community,” Baumberger said in a news release. “This city isn’t homogenous, and we don’t want the organization to be, either — we need many people to serve in a variety of roles both before the actual event and on July 4th. Our theme is still ‘Community united cannot be divided,’ so we’re really hoping that people who might not have considered volunteering before, people who might have felt marginalized or didn’t know that we need them, will come join us and bring their networks with them.”

The association sent out its donation flyer late last year informing residents of the need for donations and volunteers. Those looking to help can find resources at Evanston Fourth of July Association’s website.

“It is truly a remarkable community,” Baumberger said. “We’re excited about bringing the celebration back to the community in 2023.”