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Eighteen years ago, the city of Sunbury decided to offer a fireworks show for the public. It was just going to be a one-time event for the Fourth of July holiday. But a group of city leaders saw how much the people loved it and made efforts to offer them again the following year.

For the last 17 years, this annual event morphed into a four-day event known as Sunbury Celebration. Including a Family Fun Night, free swimming, free food, free horse rides, baseball tournaments, vendors, entertainment, a soapbox derby — and of course Saturday night fireworks – the events have become tradition to many families in the area.

To Jodi Scholvin, chair of the seven-member Sunbury Celebration committee, that’s what keeps her working so hard to make sure the event continues year after year.

“We offer all this free stuff for the kids, and come the evening of the fireworks, I look around at mom, dad and kids sitting as a family, watching the fireworks.”

“That’s the main reason I’m involved,” she said.

Whether the children come from low- or high-income families, they all can enjoy a fun weekend of free activities and giveaways — including balloon art by Air Weaver Balloons, and 1,000 bars of ice cream provided by Weis Markets.

This year, the event continues to grow with new offerings, including the giveaway of 1,000 children’s books by the 2006 Edward Rosenblum Foundation on Saturday, and an outdoor movie on Friday night behind the city’s ice rink, offered by Sunbury Revitalization Inc.

The fireworks by world-renown company Zambelli, however, continue to be a main draw.

Jim Eister, councilman and member of the Sunbury Celebration committee, said he always loves to see thousands of people gathered block after block to watch the display, and “hundreds of boats come down to sit off the shoreline to watch from the river,” he said.

Over the years, Eister has loved how the celebration has become a beloved tradition for many, just as it has for his own family.

“My two daughters grew up around it,” he said, adding, “We have children that are adults now that were there when they were a youngster, and are now coming back with their children.”

“Just the fact that we’re having a four-day event that the whole family can participate in is a nice thing,” he said.

And it’s something they hope will continue to be offered well into the future. Run by volunteers (more are always needed), Sunbury Celebration is funded through vendor fees, a trust, and especially contributions from individuals and businesses. Donations are needed year after year, especially for the fireworks display that costs $25,000. Sometimes it’s a struggle to raise the money, and the city continues to call upon the people who enjoy the celebration to support it however they can.

Scholvin said that the event continues to be a priority, though, and “it’s going to happen until we’re out of money.”  

“It’s a day that all the families can come and watch (the fireworks), sitting together as a unit – and that’s all that matters.”

The Family Fun Night will be held Thursday night at Oppenheimer Playground on Second Street. Friday night will include free swimming at the Sunbury Community Swimming Pool and a free outdoor movie behind the pool/ice rink. Saturday’s schedule includes a number of events happening at the David L. Persing Recreational Complex on North Fourth Street: a swimming competition and baseball tournament, amusement games, food and craft vendors, free ice cream, cake wheel, free horse rides, a celebrity dunk tank, free swimming, free balloons, entertainment by Memory Lane, and fireworks in the evening. Sunday will feature the 16th annual Soapbox Derby.