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An Old-Fashioned Norman Rockwell Fourth of July

Bonners Ferry looks to next year to continue the small-town tradition

By Abigail Thorpe

Bonners Ferry has a long history of gathering the community on the Fourth of July to celebrate our independence the small-town way, and it put forward their best effort this year despite the challenges that COVID-19 threw its way, but unfortunately we will have to wait until next year for the usual festivities to return.

“It's a small town, all-American kind of Norman Rockwell July Fourth,” says Gary Leanord, who spearheaded the efforts to continue the fireworks show and family celebrations, despite the city and county pulling their usual support of the event due to COVID-19 concerns.

Leonard stayed firm in his mission to bring the community together to celebrate America’s freedom, but despite his determination, reached out to Bonners Ferry Living Local at press time to inform us, and to let our readers know, that the event would not be going forward as they had planned. Particularly after months of social distancing and staying home, people were excited for an opportunity to come together, laugh and celebrate. This year’s event may be canceled, but families and individuals can still celebrate our country’s independence with those closest to us, until we can once again gather as a town.

For years the July 4th celebrations have taken place at the local Boundary County Fairgrounds. A town parade usually starts the celebrations off, composed of Bonners Ferry locals. Typically 300 to 400 people attend the parade every year, and anyone is invited to show up and participate. “It's a small-town parade, it's the coolest type of parade you can imagine,” says Leonard.

Kids eagerly look forward all year to the Family Fun Night that follows the traditional opening ceremonies, when Leonard’s son brings out Adison’s Potato Gun of Fun. Live music, concessions and good old-fashioned fun have always been a marker of the Bonners Ferry Fourth of July. The highlight of the event is always the fireworks show, which has been a tradition for many years and will be much missed this year.

Leonard first attended a Bonners Ferry fireworks show in 2010, when Skip O’Fallon was at the helm of the celebrations. One thousand to 1,500 people got together as they set off fireworks by hand for the community to enjoy. O’Fallon retired, and the following year Bonners Ferry didn’t have a fireworks show. On his way home from watching fireworks in Troy, Leonard told his wife, “That's not going to happen in Bonners Ferry again. As long as I'm involved we're going to have a fireworks show.” Ever since, Bonners has been celebrating the Fourth of July in its hometown tradition. “I don't do it for recognition, it's a way I can give something that everyone loves,” says Leonard.

The event is entirely run by volunteers and funded by community members and businesses. “The people in Boundary County are some of the most generous people on the planet, and that's both with money and time,” says Leonard, who’s been heading up the event since 2012. They raise about $6,500 to $7,500 dollars each year, which goes to pay for the fireworks, music and any other needs.

Since 2012, he’s been able to add a modular electronic system to fire the charges off. Before, they had mortar tubes buried in sand in the back of trailers, and each one had to be loaded and fired off by hand—it was very dangerous, says Leonard. Now the show is more professional and less dangerous for the volunteers involved. Allan Hamilton heads up the fireworks display every year. “He's like a maestro, he's been doing it for 25 years now,” remarks Leonard.

July 4th has always been a family event in Bonners Ferry, as people come together to make it a wonderful town experience. Leonard does fundraising with businesses and individuals locally every year to cover the costs of the event, but this year he didn’t actively fundraise due to businesses being closed and already facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19. “I couldn’t find it in my heart to go out and ask businesses,” he says.

“I'm really blessed to be here and be part of the community,” says Leonard. “People here are giving, they're caring, they want to make a great event. The people here, they're the ones who make it.”

Much around us may be different this year, but Independence Day will continue to be honored and celebrated in Bonners Ferry—a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate family, freedom and our beautiful North Idaho community, however that may look for each family and individual. Take the opportunity to gather those nearest you and explore new ways to celebrate our independence, until we gather again next year. Happy Fourth of July Bonners Ferry!

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