Deb Malewski

Contributing Writer

The fourth of July and all the activities associated with it has always been a big tradition in Eaton Rapids. Thousands of people gather for the various activities which also draw people from outside of Eaton Rapids in record numbers. After being canceled last year due to COVID-19, the 2021 Independence Day celebration promises to be a great one, culminating with fireworks at Howe Field. Back in 1919, World War I was over, the boys were coming home. Eaton Rapids wanted to welcome their hometown heroes with open arms and show their appreciation for everything they did to help keep the country safe. What better day for it than the fourth of July? All who served were recognized. “The boys who did not get overseas are nonetheless heroes-they were ready to go,” the full-page ad in the Eaton Rapids Journal on June 27, 1919, explained. The entire day was filled with activities to welcome home the men. “Something for your pleasure every minute,” the ad proclaimed. A new committee was formed to make all the arrangements, which included Martin Hansen, Mayor of Eaton Rapids from 1921 till 1923. Hansen was honored more recently by having the Rotary amphitheater park named after him. A July 4 banquet was planned, but due to the numerous other banquets for the veterans, they decided to invite the men to have lunch at the Kositchek building instead. The lunch was sponsored by the Red Cross. (Kositcheks men’s store started out in Eaton Rapids before moving to Lansing, and the Kositchek family lived in the house that is now the Skinner Funeral Home.) W. Scott Munn’s 30-piece band was performing in their brand-new uniforms on the Island. (Munn is the author of “The Only Eaton Rapids on Earth,” the history of Eaton Rapids from the mid-1800s until 1950.) The concert would be followed up with speeches from military representatives. The special festivities included fireworks, a balloon ascension, an auto parade, and airplanes. Most of the activities were held in the evening so as not to conflict with the big Grange celebration in Charlotte during the day. The Springport Shamrocks baseball team played against “our soldier boys,” with George Fields (119th Field Artillery, Red Arrow Division) as the captain of the soldiers. Forty members of the Salvation Army received the keys to the city in appreciation for all the work done by them during the war. Every soldier and sailor received a “service ring” from the city. In 1938, the VFW National Home Post No. 283 of Eaton Rapids planned a big 4th of July celebration with a carnival, ball games, rides at the athletic field all day and evening. Eaton Rapids had not indulged in a real 4th of July celebration in a number of years, it was explained, so everyone hoped that this effort would be a big success. July 4, 1942, brought a big dance at Narrow Lake Dance Hall, featuring Roy Williams and his Band. They were playing from 9:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. and admission was only 45 cents. In 1965, they really did it up. It was a five-day holiday celebration sponsored by the local VFW and the American Legion Post. There were pie-eating contests, sack races, and a carnival.  A Lansing All-Star Little League team came to town to play against the Eaton Rapids All-Star team. For the adults, Rod’s Bar went to bat against the Lansing Stroh’s, and Davidson’s Woolen Mills team played against Onondaga. The Jaycees provided boat rides at McArthur River Drive Park. Fireworks were held at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. In the evening, a Queen was crowned, followed by a dance afterwards. The fireworks have been held at both the Eaton Rapids High School and at Howe Memorial Field over the years and are known for being high quality. Credit for that is probably due to Hobo Fireworks of Eaton Rapids, owned by the late Larry Holley and Roger Bonney. Holley also served as mayor of Eaton Rapids.