Spectators brave heat to celebrate America in Merced County events

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 8, 2013 

Thousands of people braved triple-digit heat across Merced County to celebrate America's birthday on Thursday.

Celebrations in Atwater and Gustine offered parades, craft fairs, music and a fireworks show for the Fourth of July.

Armando Romero of Newman stood under the shade of a tree with wife Leigh Ann and four of their five children as they waited for the Gustine parade to begin.

"I used to participate in the parade, the kids used to participate in the parade," the 42-year-old said. "We like to come out and celebrate the Fourth (and) just to be with everybody."

The Romeros, who once lived in Gustine, said this was their 15th parade. Leigh Ann Romero said the celebration is a good time to reunite with old neighbors and longtime friends.

The parade was sponsored by the Gustine Chamber of Commerce. Administrative assistant Judi Gandy, who was also the 2012 grand marshal, said 45 entries were registered to be part of the parade but some canceled because of the heat.

The parade typically draws 3,000 to 4,000 revelers, but Gandy said the heat cut those numbers.

"I expect half of that," she said just before the parade kicked off.

The Gustine parade dates back to 1911, four years after the town was founded, according to local historian Pat Snoke.

The city of Gustine adopted a Naval squadron based in Lemoore a number of years ago. About 35 sailors from the Flying Eagles VFA-122 marched in full regalia.

Command Master Chief Jim Cahill said the people of Gustine have treated his squadron to barbecues, so the service men and women support the parade.

"We just enjoy the relationship," Cahill said. "We appreciate everything the people of Gustine do — salt of the earth kind of folks."

The Gustine Lions Club served as grand marshals. The parade was followed by an all-day fair in Henry Miller Park.

Across the county, in Atwater, the Fourth's festivities drew a larger crowd. However, organizers said the weather would likely hinder attendance.

"Twenty vendors dropped out due to the heat," organizer Greg McDaniel said, referring to the craft fair.

McDaniel estimated 30,000 people would watch the roughly 85 floats, horseback riders, car clubs and other parade entries. That number is down from last year.

Athena Gonzales, 39, of Atwater has been to a handful of parades.

"It's fun to come out to the parade with family and celebrate America's birthday," Gonzales said, adding she likes the floats carrying children and musicians.

Gonzales lives near Ralston Park, the site of the craft fair, so the heat was not a deterrent for her.

"Once I finally get tired," she said, "I go home and turn on the AC."

Livingston began its Fourth of July celebration early, with a carnival that began Thursday and continues through today at Memorial Park and Livingston High, near Park and Main streets.

A grand fireworks show is slated from 9:20 to 10 p.m. today at Memorial Park.

Organizers said the event is expected to draw attendees from all over the region, with the fireworks show typically attracting more than 6,000.

The carnival will include a raffle fund-raiser, with prizes including a car, computer electronics and other items. A variety of performers also are on hand to entertain the holiday weekend crowd.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or by email at tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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