IMPERIAL – Imperial Valley’s annual Freedom Fest celebration drew large crowds of families to Imperial Valley College to have picnics and watch fireworks Tuesday in celebration of America’s 241st Independence Day.
Gene Brister, chairman and co-founder of Freedom Fest, said, “Freedom Fest is more than just a fireworks show. It is a truly a celebration as families gather on the grassy fields of Imperial Valley College campus with their lawn chairs, picnic blankets, and radios to celebrate the birth of our nation.”
Brister said it is also to honor the branches of the Armed services; the federal, state, and local first responders and emergency personnel that protect the nation.
People started arriving at 6:00 p.m. bringing their folding chairs, blankets, snacks, plus toys and glow sticks for the children at the junior college’s sports field. As it got darker, more people arrived in anticipation of the synchronized fireworks. Some purchased snacks at the concession stands. Imperial County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement officers and local agencies had stations and booths set up and gave out information to promote their services, while the Boy Scouts provided “lost children bracelets” in the fun center area.
Some families, however, preferred watching the fireworks from a distance, parking along ditch banks and side roads. But the adjacent agricultural ditch banks along the campus were off-limits. No personal fireworks, alcoholic beverages, drones or open flames were allowed and the California Highway Patrol helped with the traffic flow.
The United States’ Independence Day was separation and freedom from Great Britain’s rule in 1776, some 241 years ago and it amounts to a lot of fireworks through years in celebration of freedom.
This freedom means a lot for Medardo Montaño who has served in the U.S. Army (1996-2003) and was deployed to Afghanistan, he said. He is currently serving in the National Guard, since 2007. He said independence means having the family enjoy freedom and not having to live like communist countries.
“It means you can come out here and watch people having fun, express their ways of life, express their beliefs, their religion,” Montaño said. “It just means being free and living happy. As of now, I thank God we’re in America, and thank God for our freedom.”
Montaño was wearing a t-shirt with the U.S.A. flag printed on it and he sat on a folding chair next o his wife. His children played at the track and soccer field where he set up camp. He said this was his second time to watch Freedom Fest.
For El Centro resident Gaby Tolef, this was her fifth time attending Freedom Fest at IVC. She was accompanied by her mother and both were wearing patriotic clothes with accompanying masks and glow in the dark sticks.
“Independence Day for me,” Tolef said, “means being able to have the freedom of choosing where to live in this big country of ours, what college to go to, and what career to pursue.”
Earlier, Brister called the attention of people to watch out for the Aero Squadron that flew over Imperial Valley College with the backdrop of the orange setting sun. The first propeller plane was piloted by Steve Reeves and Brian Floyd. The second was piloted by Eddie Lutz, Sr., Eddie Lutz, Jr. and Yvonne Naud; and the third, by Wally Hale and John Edmonds. The Aero Squadron made two flyovers — south to north and west to east — above the campus.
By 9:25 p.m. lights out on the grounds signaled the anticipated fireworks. It was immediately followed by the presentation of colors by the Naval Air Facility El Centro color guard who stood on the stage in front of a projected image of flag of the Unites States of America.
Music followed and fireworks began shooting upward to brighten the skies for all freedom lovers to see. The fireworks’ explosions activated the theft alarms of many vehicles and compounded the loud noise in the skies.
According to Brister, the synchronized music and fireworks show took an average of about 25 minutes. But the show, Brister said, takes four months of preparation with more than 300 hundred volunteers. The volunteers came from all the different cities of the Imperial Valley.
“We are so thankful for all the agencies the county provides us. The Imperial Chamber that takes care of the vendors. The event belongs to the Imperial Valley,” Brister said. Those interested to support and get involved with Freedom Fest may call 760-352-1230, he said.