Team of more than 400 volunteers put on two days of family fun events

Published in the June 27 – July 10, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Parade participants wave to the crowd during the 2016 Fourth of July Parade.

A South Valley families prepare for the Fourth of July, dedicated residents at the nonprofit Independence Day Celebrations, Inc., keep busy putting on the final touches for this year’s theme: “Happy Birthday, America.”

It takes a village of local volunteers to produce the celebration of our nation’s founding 242 years ago. And in the spirit of American neighborliness, all are welcomed to downtown Morgan Hill for Freedom Fest.

President Jeff Dixon leads the five-member IDC board. Seven event chairs, 23 people on the steering committee and more than 400 volunteers put on all six family-friendly events.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is our board members and volunteers,” Dixon said. “Without them, this doesn’t happen. We’ve focused heavily on bringing this all-volunteer community service organization onto professional footing, so that it’s run like a business working toward a common goal.”

The organization is something of an unknown entity, as many people mistakenly assume the city or the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce organize and fund the Fourth of July celebrations. IDC has overseen the local Fourth of July events since 1982.

More than three decades ago, the chamber of commerce relinquished control of three events — the parade, the July 3 street dance, and the fireworks show, which was then held at Community Park.

Not wanting to lose these celebrations, volunteers banded together to form their own organization. IDC was born, known at the time as Independence Day, Inc.

Kicking off the Freedom Fest celebrations is the Patriotic Sing, led by Karen Crane for the 27th consecutive year. It will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. July 3 at the Downtown Amphitheater. Immediately following will be the Family Music Fest from 7 to 11 p.m. in downtown.

The street dance is led by Dennis Dal Poggetto for the 23rd consecutive year and this year will feature Janel and the Heist, a dance and party band playing top 40 songs from the past 30 years. Janel was a top 75 contestant on Season 13 of American Idol.

Opening the show will be a color guard salute, the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner and then Morgan Hill resident Angeline Madriaga will sing a few songs before the main act comes on about 8 p.m. DJ E. Poki returns to entertain the younger crowd at the corner of Second Street and Monterey Road.

Dal Poggetto said he still enjoys putting on the event even after more than two decades.

“The community loves this event,” he said. “What I’ve seen over the years is kids graduate from high school 20 years ago and come back to see their friends every year. They know the dance is a staple every year and they get to see people they have seen in years. It’s really pretty cool. I enjoy that.”

Another event that is gaining popularity is the Freedom Run through downtown beginning at 7:45 a.m. the morning of the Fourth of July.

Recently, the United States Track and Field Association sanctioned the 5K Freedom Run to be part of the Grand Prix circuit in California. Because it’s official now, runners can potentially establish world records at the Freedom Run.

Following the run through the parade route will be the Car Cruise at 9:30 a.m. The car show takes place after the parade at the Community and Cultural Center.

The parade, now in its 143rd year in Morgan Hill, will be bigger and better, Dixon said. This year boasts 175 entries, up slightly from last year. An exciting new addition is the USO, Dixon said.

Organizing the parade are the longtime team of Bob and Maureen Hunt, who during the past three decades have grown the parade into what it is today. Starting in mid-June, downtown residents start setting up their chairs along the sidewalk to save spaces along the route.

Dixon said he enjoys seeing everyone’s response throughout the two days of Freedom Fest celebrations.

“Overall everyone’s response is pleasant and enjoyable,” he said. “Some are asking how they can help, others are sharing the appreciation for the hard work the Freedom Fest team puts into the events.” One of the best parts of his job is riding in the parade and seeing the enjoyment on the faces of those lining the parade route, he said.

Raising money throughout the year is essential to the operation of IDC and its events because the celebrations are funded entirely through donations and corporate sponsors.

The team tries to come up with new ways to raise dollars aside from the usual techniques. Last year, they came up with the idea to raffle off the opportunity to launch the test fireworks prior to the fireworks show.

“It’s called the VIP fireworks package,” Dixon explained. “They get to launch a test shot at the show.”

These innovative approaches to fundraising are helping the organization expand their reach and fulfill their mission, which is to help unite the Morgan Hill community.

“It gives everyone a chance to spend time with family and friends in a fun way while appreciating all that the USA gives us,” he said.

IDC is comprised entirely of volunteers and has never hired a paid employee. Everyone is dedicated to the goal of bringing the South Valley community together to celebrate America’s birthday with a patriotic party that invites people from throughout Santa Clara County and the surrounding regions.

The hardest part for any community service organization is sustainability, Dixon added.

“IDC will need to attract and retain new volunteers to continue its mission into the next decade,” he said. “At the same time, we will be looking for more ways to give back to the community with new causes and new events.”

Yvonne Melicker, who was born and raised in Morgan Hill but moved to San Jose, returned to Morgan Hill 14 months ago and became the secretary of the organization this year. She said she wanted to get active in the community once again so she volunteered.

“This is a way to help my community as well as meet some like-minded people. I am honored to be working with people that have been working with this organization for 20 years and longer. It is amazing to me to see the time and effort they put into this organization and how well run it is.”

Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi

Editor at Gilroy Life
Robert Airoldi is the editor of Gilroy Life newspaper. If you have a story idea or an Around Town column item you want to tell him about, you can reach him at (408) 427-5865 or at editor@gilroylife.com.
Robert Airoldi