UTICA — Friday was a beautiful day to begin Utica’s Fourth of July celebration, along with free parking, free rides and free entertainment, sponsored and organized by Licking Lodge 290 F&AM. South End Park turned into a patriotic funland for the whole family to enjoy.
The celebration opened with the Little Miss Firecracker and Master Rocket contest, with six boys and girls participating this year: Mark Clark, Dakota Fisher, Lillian Simpson, Sasha Hollinger, Mackenizie Clark and Gavin Collins. Each contestant stood before the five judges and answered questions about their favorite things and what they liked to do for fun.
Four-year-old Gavin said he liked to play basketball, football and soccer, and that his favorite movie was GI Joes.
Dakota said his favorite place to go is grandma’s house. The first-grader also said he likes going to school and riding the bus.
Winning this year’s titles were Lillian Simpson as Little Miss Firecracker and Gavin Collins as Little Master Rocket.
The spider jump, slide and obstacle course held excitement for the children attending the celebration.
Frank Winters, 8 years old, said he was thrilled to slide down the gigantic slide — that was just right before heading to the entrance to the obstacle course.
“I’m having fun. The obstacle course is the best,” he said. “[The Fourth] is my favorite day in July. We watch the fireworks and we have snappers that you throw on the ground and the sparklers that you wave around. I like that the best.”
Ronile Helser of Utica jumped high, kicking his feet into the air before landing again for another jump. Helser came with his father, Ronnie, and mother, Kim. Helser said he loves all the rides, and has ridden all of them more than once.
“I think this is a nice event for the community and a good place for families to come out,” said Ronnie. “I grew up around here and we never had anything like this.”
“We came here last year and Ronile just had a ball,” said Kim.
The evening continued with live entertainment by The Variations/Pleasant Valley Boys/Ohio Swing Band, and square dancing for all to enjoy.
“We appreciate the community support,” said John Rodeniser, co-coordinator of the celebration. “We do this for the community.”
The lodge began hosting the event five years ago.
“We wanted to get out into the community and do some fundraising,” said Rodeniser.
Although the parking, rides and entertainment are free, there is a charge for the dunk tank and putt-putt golf, which is sponsored by the VFW Post 9062 of Utica.
All proceeds raised from today’s car show will go to the Ohio Masonic Home: Pathways Center.
“The lodge is doing a wonderful job and if we can keep people from having to drive out of town to enjoy the Fourth of July celebration, then that’s wonderful,” said Utica Mayor Larry Friesel.
Today the festivities will continue with a car show, tractor display, live entertainment by Bryan Lewis and more. Concluding the weekend of celebration is a fireworks display, scheduled for Sunday at dusk.
“Sunday is our fireworks and that’s always our biggest bang,” said Rodensier.