Joliet fireworks show has bright finances
BY BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org July 3, 2013 9:50PM
Attendees get ready for Fourth of July fireworks last year in Joliet. | File photo
Updated: August 5, 2013 6:41PM
Many people headed to Joliet Memorial Stadium to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks may forget that just four years ago the show was close to being called off for lack of money.
Now, however, the fireworks fund may be in the best shape it has been in for at least two decades.
It’s not just that the economy has improved, said Russ Slinkard, secretary of the Joliet July 4th Celebration Committee and chief executive of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Faced with nearly losing a tradition of more than 60 years, the committee and the community have rallied to give the city’s fireworks show a more secure future, Slinkard said.
“We’re on a sound footing now,” he said. “We’ve had two or three years in a row with a good response from the community, from individuals and from businesses.”
He said the fireworks fund is in its best shape since he got involved 17 years ago.
The fireworks display now not only fills Memorial Stadium, but thousands set up lawn chairs on Jefferson Street, spread out on picnic blankets at Inwood Golf Course and find other favorite spots in the surrounding streets and parking lots.
The event begins at 8:30 p.m. Thursday with a patriotic ceremony at the stadium followed by fireworks at dusk.
Since the funding crisis of 2009, corporate sponsors such as D’Arcy Motors, Rasmussen College and Union Pacific have backed the fireworks show. But the event also has $100 contributors like it never had before, many of whom show up during the annual radiothon fundraiser on WJOL-AM.
Slinkard said those donations make them members of the $100 Club, which was set up to encourage more contributors and make the show less dependent on the same group of donors each year.
Before 2009, the July Fourth committee would raise money via a mailing to chamber members several weeks before Independence Day. Enough money would be generated to cover the costs each year.
But when the economic recession hit, many of those donors no longer could come through. Perhaps the biggest loss was from the city of Joliet, which ended an annual $10,000 contribution as it began making major budget cuts.
That left the July Fourth committee scrambling for money in late June 2009 and rallying the community for help. Slinkard said that resulted in broader support for the show, which costs nearly $27,000 to stage.
This year, the committee not only has enough money to cover the costs of the display but a good start on next year. It’s not quite where it would like to be, however.
“We’d like to have one year in reserve,” Slinkard said, so the next economic downtown doesn’t threaten a tradition that started at Memorial Stadium the year after the end of World War II.