Independence Day in Gillette has been an example of cooperation and celebration in an unprecedented year of social and political division.
The annual Fourth of July parade and hot dog feed had been canceled, but a grassroots community effort salvaged the parade and barbecue. And on Saturday, hundreds of people lined the sidewalks of Second Street and cheered as 62 floats made their way through downtown Gillette.
For a moment, James Grabrick said things felt "almost back to normal."
“I did miss the free candy,” the local resident said, referencing a public health guideline that kept parade floats from tossing candy to children along the parade route. “Every parade is better with free candy, but it was a good show.”
Grabrick said the biggest difference between this year’s parade and previous years had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic or the global health pandemic, but the overwhelming amount of political campaigning on the floats.
“It’s an election year, so it makes sense," he said. "It’s good to be able to have the parade during an election year. It’s good to see a lot of peaceful demonstration.”
On June 3, The Campbell County Parks and Recreation Department had canceled all Fourth of July events except the public fireworks show. In response, a Facebook group was created called “Save the 4th of July Gillette Wyoming” and quickly, the hope of celebrating Independence Day was resurrected.
By Saturday, the Facebook group had grown to more than 2,500 members and not only were the free hot dog free and parade reinstated, but vendors who brought games like laser tag and bounce houses to Bicentennial Park could offer them free because of the generous donations collected.
“It’s truly a reflection of the country that was founded and that we’re celebrating today,” said Gillette Police Cpl. Ryan Warne. “To see everybody come together and to have this community outreach is what this place is all about.”
After a June 10 order from Gov. Mark Gordon to allow parades, Campbell County Parks and Rec agreed to take over planning for the parade, but allowed the “Save the 4th of July” group to continue to organize the annual pancake breakfast and hot dog feed at Bicentennial Park.
“It was an amazing turnout,” said Joseph Terry, a local mechanic who led the Facebook group. “We were kind of expecting it to go one of two ways, and it went the right way.”
Terry said the group came prepared for a large turnout at the hot dog feed, ordering 7,000 hot dogs, 3,500 bags of assorted chips, 250 cases of water and 100 cases of soda. Hundreds of people lined up to be fed after the parade, with the line growing so long it snaked through Bicentennial Park and out into the parking lot.
“This is what Independence Day is about,” Terry said. “We can just set aside everything for a day and just come together and enjoy the holiday.”
Kelly Stone, director of Sunrise Wellness and Recovery Center, said he was contacted by Terry two days before the event to participate in the celebration at the park.
“It was gratifying to have Joe (Terry) call me and ask me to be a part of this,” Stone said. “I was hoping to get involved so it felt good.”
Stone’s role in the celebration was gathering people on one of the baseball fields to form a human peace sign. Stone said it represents what the Fourth of July is about and how togetherness is something people haven't exhibited the last several months.
“Independence doesn’t necessarily mean independence from each other,” Stone said. “Independence is forming a common goal to bring ourselves together.
“Independence is in your heart and you can carry it anywhere you go, proudly.”
Stone also said he volunteered at the pancake breakfast that was held in the parking lot of Don’s Supermarket. Much like the hot dog feed, he said the turnout was good and people enjoyed coming together to celebrate.
“I think it’s just a really good testament to the city of Gillette and the people here,” Stone said. “It’s a beautiful display by our community to come together with peace and love and harmony.”
The meaning of Independence varies for some people, but the people of Gillette could agree on one thing Saturday. It was nice to get out of the house.
“I’m just glad to be out here,” said Jeremiah Bruin of Gillette. “There’s a lot of political hoopla going on, but today is the opportunity to celebrate our independence, others' independence, our freedom of speech and our freedom to peacefully protest, and we can celebrate free-thinking and healthy minds.”
As Bruin and others watched as several horses walked past on Second Street, he knew his favorite part of the holiday was still yet to come at 10 p.m. at Morningside Park at Cam-plex.
“Fireworks,” Bruin said. “That’s my favorite part of the Fourth of July. The fireworks.”