Butler County communities change to celebrate Fourth of July

Josh Crouch, sitting along Central Avenue in Middletown watching the Perseverance through the Pandemic Driving Parade with his family on Saturday, summed up the 2020 Fourth of July holiday the best.

“Up until this year,” he said, “we looked at it as Independence Day. Today is Together Day. We all need to be together and come together as a country.”

His wife, Jessica Taylor, standing next to their son, Tyler, 7, added: “Despite all of our differences, we can all come together for this day.”

That was true throughout Butler County as communities created unique ways to celebrate summer holiday despite the social distancing regulations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Hamilton hosted its fireworks show Saturday night, there was an aerial pyrotechnic show called Blessings Over Our Middletown (BOOM) Friday night, Fairfield held its Red, White & Kaboom show on Friday and two very different parades were held Saturday morning in Hamilton and Middletown.

About 50 supporters of the Butler County chapter of Last Ohio Militia walked from the Butler County Fairgrounds to the Butler County Government Services Center with some of the marchers waving American flags with guns attached to their hips.

Walt Simms, tribal chief of the local militia group, was frustrated Hamilton canceled its July 4 parade, so his group organized an event with escorts from two Hamilton police cruisers.

“We felt it was a tradition that wasn’t worth cancelling,” said Simms, 50, of Fairfield. “We felt it should have been left up to the individuals.”

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The goal of the march, he said, was to “celebrate” independence.

“We are not representing a cause except the country,” he said.

In Middletown, about 150 vehicles, including police cruisers, firetrucks and Jeeps, drove around the city as hundreds of residents lined Verity Parkway, Breiel Boulevard and Central Avenue. The parade was organized by Jeri Lewis, who said it was “powerful” seeing people crying along the parade route.

“It meant a lot to people that we took the time to do this,” Lewis said about the parade.

Lamar Ferrell, pastor of Berachah Church, which organized BOOM and provided about 30 volunteers to direct traffic, estimated 2,000 people watched the pyrotechnic show from Lefferson Park and the nearby church parking lot. He said by 9:30 p.m., cars were turned away.

For him, the highlight was watching skydivers from Team Fastrax, the world’s largest skydiving team, land at the church with a 5,000-square-foot American flag attached at the same time a recording of Whitney Houston singing the “Star Spangled Banner” played over the sound system.

“The place went nuts,” the pastor said. “It was a beautiful night. During these chaotic times, this gave all of the community an opportunity to celebrate.”

John Hart II, founder of Team Fastrax, said as the skydivers reached 3,000 feet they could hear the crowd chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A!”

“It was phenomenal,” he said.

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Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey, a member of Team Fastrax, called BOOM “the most successful, social distancing event” she has seen. She received messages from residents throughout the city who said they watched the pyrotechnics show from their back yards.

After the city cancelled its fireworks show because of COVID-19, Condrey said it was important to provide entertainment to the residents. The 45-minute show featured 12 skydivers who performed numerous feats through the air from 6,000 and 13,000 feet.

“Life continues through the pandemic,” she said. “We can’t stop being proud of our country.”

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