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June 28, 2012

Past is perfect for Meadville's July 4 celebration

MEADVILLE — Next week marks the 236th birthday of the United States of America — and an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration is set for Wednesday in Meadville’s Diamond Park, where more than 200 people gathered a year ago for a similar event.

Organizers are hoping for an even bigger crowd during their third such holiday gathering. Themes for the day are ever-popular topics: patriotism and service to our nation.

“It’s important to honor America’s freedom,” said Charlie Anderson, a member of the Meadville Patriotic Action Committee, which is sponsoring the free program, “A Picnic in the Park.”

The program will begin at 11:30 a.m. when the public is invited to assemble. Lawn chairs and picnic lunches may be taken.

A patriotic program, similar to patriotic programs the past two years, will begin at noon.

Guest speaker will be retired Maj. Les Newell of the U.S. Marine Corps. A resident of Alexandria, Va., Newell served in Vietnam, where he was injured. He will discuss the importance of service in keeping the country free.

Paulette Wildmann, one of the co-founders of the Meadville Patriotic Action Committee, explained that Newell is the husband of a friend of hers. After last year’s event, she visited with him and his wife and, while talking about the local celebration, he offered to be speaker any time. She took him up on his offer.

Widmann said the program is not designed to be political in nature, and no politicians are scheduled to speak.

Invocation and benediction will be by Bob Preston, chaplain of the Veterans of the Vietnam War Post 52. The color guard from Vietnam War Veterans Post 52 will present the colors at the start of the program and retire them at the conclusion.

Local residents are ready to take part in the old-fashioned presentations: Diane Smith will sing the national anthem, plus “God Bless America” and “Ragged Old Flag,” and Eagle Scout Lee Harkness will lead the pledge of allegiance.

Meadville Mayor Chris Soff was unable to attend the events in the past two years, as he was out of town, but said he will be in town this year and is looking forward to attending. “It’s a great way to honor the country, and I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I commend the people who put it on.”

The program will last approximately one hour. The committee has rented the park until 2:30 p.m., and some picnic tables will be available for use by the public. KFC of Meadville will provide beverages.

The Fourth of July celebration is one of three events sponsored annually by the committee formed three and one-half years ago. Widmann — who was raised in Meadville and left for 42 years before retiring and moving back seven years ago — said the committee was formed because of concern about health care, but soon changed its focus to promote patriotism and service.

Widmann said attendance at their first Fourth of July observance was sparse, but last year, about 150 people attended, and the committee hopes for even more this year.

The committee also has hosted three observances in Diamond Park to remember Sept. 11, and a National Bill of Rights Day observance in December at the Meadville City Building has been held twice.

Plans are to continue all three observances each year.

Ron Peterson was co-founder of the committee with Widmann. Other members are Frank Byham, Anderson and Gary Mason. Joyce Sliter, another original committee member, will be unable to attend this year.

Membership to the group is open to all interested persons. The only meetings are those held to plan the three programs each year.

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