By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Think warm, like Union County Fourth of July Parade warm, because there will be a parade in Lewisburg come late June, event organizers said Tuesday.
This will be the 20th annual Union County Veterans Celebration, and the parade will take place June 28, the last Saturday of June as usual, said Thomas Reimensnyder, of the parade committee.
“The parade is going to happen,” he said.
Sgt. Maj. Kevin Bittenbender, an Army National Guard member who had led the parade with the annual Freedom Bike Ride team, dons a new hat as parade committee president, he said.
This year’s parade will honor Gold Star families, and the likely theme is “You are not forgotten.”
Gold Star families are called this for the Gold Star lapel pin the Defense Department gives immediate family members of service members who lost their lives in conflict or in support of certain military operations. The decades-long program has seen a resurgence given military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Freedom Ride will continue, but “we’re looking at keeping it more local,” Bittenbender said. The rides usually take place over several days and hundreds of miles — the last two came in from Washington — and end leading the parade into downtown Lewisburg.
Bittenbender, who is now preparing paralympic athletes for biathlon competition in Sochi in March, wants to keep this year’s event local, possibly circumnavigating Union County and involving other counties and municipalities, he said.
“I’m hoping to knit these counties and communities together,” he said, involving mayors and municipal officials and identifying Gold Star families living there. “We’d dedicate the ride to them that day.”
Bittenbender takes the reins from Graham Showalter, who will remain behind the scenes. The committee had operated out of Showalter’s downtown Lewisburg law office.
The long-standing tradition of the parade, which has become a Union County staple, will be “bigger and better” every year, Showalter said.
Concerns over outstanding debt had committee members worried during most of 2013 that the event wouldn’t take place this year. Reimensnyder said that issue has been resolved.
“We’re a little behind schedule in working,” he said. The group is looking for a new headquarters and possibly may work from East Buffalo Township’s new municipal complex, although that arrangement is not final, Reimensnyder said.
The committee also is holding back on planning more July 4 events until it finds a new location, he said. However, he noted with certainty that the band cavalcade is out.
“We had that to make money for the parade,” Reimensnyder said, “but we got just the reverse here.” When the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps backed out last year because of the federal sequester, the parade committee was forced to refund money “and that hurt us,” he said.
“We decided the best thing to do is not have it,” he said, though it could make a comeback in the future.
The parade itself may see some downsizing. Sponsors are sought for floats, as well as for bands, of which there may be fewer this year as well, Reimensnyder said. The committee may look to involve more local high school bands instead of the larger bands it has been bringing in.
Last month, Pardoe’s Perky Peanuts, of Montandon, announced it would donate 5,000 bags of peanuts to be sold at $2 each as a fundraiser to support the parade and celebration.
Volunteers fund and organize the July 4 celebration, according to the event’s website. County and local governments provide some financial support, but most comes through private sources. The funds help keep most of the events free.