The Stars and Stripes boldly flared, driven by a strong July breeze, while The Star-Spangled Banner rang out acapella from the bandstand. Softly singing along, tears came to my eyes as they usually do when I see the flag raised and sing our national anthem.
My love for this musical tribute to our American flag was deepened back in September 2014 when I learned the story of how the anthem came to be written. In 1814 (during the War of 1812), Francis Scott Key was tasked to make a POW exchange with the British. Shipboard during the negotiations, he was informed that the British planned to end the war with a massive bombardment of Ft McHenry, which was full of non-combatants as well as soldiers. The British demanded that the Americans strike the colors or face the wrath of the entire British Navy. They declined. After a hellish night of heavy shelling, including multiple direct hits on the flag, when dawn finally came Key saw that the flag miraculously remained. Shredded, canted at a weird angle, it yet stood – because men physically held it in place. Throughout the night, as defenders died others took their place. Our flag still flew, a symbol of our determination, because it was held in place by the bodies of dead American patriots.
The flag raising and anthem that so touched me this particular July morning officially opened the Brazos Heritage Society’s 29th annual Independence Day in Heritage Park. The day turned out quite beautiful, warm but with that strong breeze, and no rain. After the incredibly wet spring we just endured, that was a blessing. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, if you didn’t mind chasing a few papers. Reverend Ross Hooks, husband of long-time member Fran (Lamb) Hooks, started us off with a wonderful invocation, followed by the flag raising, anthem, and a tribute to the flag by The National Sojourners.
As President, I added a few of my own thoughts about the significance of the day, sharing some of the history of what their bid for Liberty cost our Founding Fathers, followed by a reminder that our freedom is dearly bought by the service and blood of our soldiers, past and present.
After the opening ceremony, I lined up a large group of children of all ages near the bandstand where Sheila Fields, our parade mistress, quickly passed out colorful red, white and blue leis. We actually started a couple minutes early because if I didn’t let the kids run, they were going to mutiny! While the band played, they made multiple laps around on the park on their gaily decorated bikes, scooters, skates, wagons, and strollers. This colorful, joyful parade of youngsters is always the highlight of the event!
For the remainder of the time our visitors enjoyed wonderful popular music by Proud Country, a group that has played the event for a number of years. They munched on hotdogs, popcorn, and watermelon while strolling among the different exhibitor booths under the shade of the park’s tall trees. This year’s exhibitors included the A & M Garden Club, Brazos Spinners and Weavers Guild, Brazos Valley African American Museum, Brazos Valley Farmer’s Market, Central Texas Historical Association, NS Daughters of the American Revolution, The Brazos Bluebonnet Quilt Guild, The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, and The James C. Taylor Association (a local veteran support group).
Along the street, the Bluebonnet Streetrodders displayed a variety of gorgeous vintage cars. The antique cars were joined by a 2.5 ton LMTV (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle) and the well-known High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), or Humvee, provided by our local U.S. Army Reserve 420th Engineer Brigade. Being able to climb around on the military vehicles was a big hit with our visitors! In turn, we were delighted to share the day with a few of our soldiers.
For a second year, we were also joined by local radio station KORA, who broadcast live from 9 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. I personally want to thank Fran (Lamb) Hooks for her wonderful help again this year in coordinating our pre-event advertising with KORA and the broadcast. KORA’s presence was made possible by donations from Mervin and Annette Peters, Bookman and Florence Peters, and Tom and Caroline McDonald.
All of this Independence Day fun was made possible thanks to the support of BSA Troop #383 (St. Joseph Catholic Church), Dent Magic, Dixie Chicken Inc., HEB, Kroger, Saint-Gobain Norpro, The Downtown Bryan Association, and The Farm Patch. We are very grateful for their continuing support of this free community event.
We could not possibly host this event without the help of all our fabulous volunteers. My deep personal thanks to Cathy and Alice Cox (Children’s Games), Shirley DuPriest (Setup/Rover/Cleanup), Sheila Fields (Parade Mistress/Silent Auction booth), Tim Gray (Setup/Cleanup), Samantha and Natasha Gray (Setup/Face Painting booth/Cleanup), Zachary Gray, BSA Troop #1114 (Children’s Games/Cleanup), Daniel Hilliard (Setup/Cleanup), Nat Hilliard (Setup/Silent Auction Booth), Fran (Lamb) Hooks (Public Relations and Advertising), Reverend Ross Hooks (Invocation), Dena Kahan (Exhibitor Setup/Ticket Booth/Cleanup), Homer and Beverly Myers (Setup/Watermelon Booth/Cleanup), Ulrike Smith (Ticket Booth), and Helen Wise (Setup). Last but not least, I want to thank my husband, Randy Hilliard, who always does such an amazing job as our Events Chair. Without his logistical skill, this event would never get off the ground.
The 4th of July celebration is not a fundraiser, but our annual silent auction helps offset the costs of putting on the event. This year we raised over $700 thanks to a variety of great items donated by sports teams from around the state including Dallas Stars Hockey, FC Dallas Soccer, the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Foundation (Dallas Cowboys), the Houston Rockets, the Texas Rangers, and Texas Stars Hockey. Local donors include the Benjamin Knox Gallery, Blue Baker, Patty Clark, Brazos Glassworks, the Brazos Valley Bombers, Jim.n.i, Kwik-Kar, Lady Camo, Beverly Myers, Steve Miller, Old Bryan Marketplace, Southern Grace, Texas Rose Boutique, The Chocolate Gallery, Harvey and Helen Wise, and Studio Yoga. We also received a monetary donation from Fran (Lamb) Hooks. Due to July 4th being on a Saturday, and part of a long weekend, it seemed like our turnout was not quite as high as last year, but the feedback has been uniformly enthusiastic, which is all we ask. While we are busy wrapping up the after-event paperwork, rest assured we are also already making plans for our 30th annual Independence Day in the Park for July 4, 2016. Our 30th year coincides with the 175th anniversary of the founding of Brazos County and the 150th year of the founding of Bryan, so it will be a time for celebrating some auspicious anniversaries.
Moving on from the 4th of July event, I wanted to discuss a few other items of business. First, our next event will be Boonville Days on October 10. We’ve had a booth at the event multiple years and we always enjoy getting to share local history with visitors. We also offer a butter-churning demonstration, complete with snacks. We showcase vintage school books, a Brazos County timeline, and antique pioneer items loaned to us by Dr. Lou Hodges. I hope you’ll think about attending the event, which is always a wonderful look at our pioneer period. If you do, be sure and stop by our booth and say “hi!”
As you can see, we’ve been working on the look and content of the newsletter. As well as the new features, we also plan to start publishing quarterly in order to make our newsletter a more useful tool for sharing what is going on with BHS. The changes in our newsletter would not be possible without the help of Stephanie Snyder, a BHS member in San Antonio who stepped up and offered to do much of the production. Don’t forget, however, that if you are a social media user, we also post regularly on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/brazosheritagesociety. Not only do we share BHS events and information, we also share both local and national items of historical interest. It is a great way to stay in touch in between newsletter issues.
In separate articles, I provide updates on the Turner-Peters Dogtrot Cabin project and the revitalized effort to restore Temple Freda, Bryan’s first synagogue, located on Parker Street just off downtown behind Old Bryan Marketplace. If you would like more historical information, you can visit our website at brazosheritage.org under Projects.
Finally, if you are a newsletter subscriber but not a member, I would like to encourage you to formally join the Brazos Heritage Society. Memberships are as low as $10/individual or $15/family. We are only as strong as our membership, and we truly value your support and your ideas.