Independence Day celebrations in Wellsburg included races, concerts and more
Monday’s festivities opened with a flag-raising ceremony at the E.R. Nichols 1st Ward Park, where Mayor Dan Dudley thanked the many volunteers involved.
As volunteer firefighter Cody Rice raised the U.S. flag, Dudley noted it had been lowered to half staff following the recent death of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living World War II veteran to have received the Medal of Honor.
A West Virginia native, Williams died at the age of 89 on Wednesday in Huntington.
Also participating in flag raising was Brittany Saggio, who performed the national anthem; and Barb Yoder, chairman of the Wellsburg 4th of July Committee, who thanked everyone who has supported the group’s efforts.
Prior to the ceremony, Yoder said Rice, a longtime member of the committee, will be taking over as its chair next year.
Dudley noted for many years the group has been able to organize a variety of activities with support from local businesses and others.
Some also have held their own events to coincide with the celebration.
Among them is the Oil Can Derby, which local businessman Fred Marino revived 10 years ago following a hiatus of about 40 years.
Forty-one boys and girls, ages 8-14, competed in the soapbox car style race, which was divided into two divisions: Stock, for a driver and car weighing no more than a combined 215 pounds, and super stock for those weighing no more than a combined 230 pounds.
Trophies were presented to the top finishers in each division, with the winners’ names added to those of past winners on a cup-style trophy kept from year to year.
Marino said he spent months planning this year’s race and has been busy for the last several days preparing, including painting some of the many cars, many of which bear the names of local businesses and groups sponsoring them.
He noted he has a team of about a dozen volunteers who man the start and finish lines and transport the cars with a trailer pulled by carts loaned by Ed Zatta, while local disc jockey David Secrist provides music and a running commentary on the race’s many heats.
Marino added this year’s race received a boost from Kevin Maloney, who donated a new timer system, and the Osiris Shrine, which has joined as a major sponsor.
Participants of the race were invited to appear in the city’s Independence Day Parade Monday evening.
Also taking part in the procession were children in the bicycle decorating contest held by the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, another yearly tradition.
Yoder expressed thanks to the club for adding a new event: the Duck Derby, in which hundreds of plastic ducks were emptied into the Ohio River and the sponsors of those that reached a designated “finish line” received prizes.
Eric Fithyan, the club’s president, said the event raised more than $20,000 for future children’s activities being planned.
Yoder said among others deserving special thanks for their efforts are Gary Conley, who volunteered his services as a disc jockey when one of the bands scheduled for Central Park canceled; members of the Foundry church, who organized this year’s 5K run-walk; and Greg Cheeks, a local veteran who arranged for the Vietnam Veterans of America’s Mobile Wall to appear at the park on Friday and Saturday.
Judy Fowler, one of many local residents on hand for the Oil Can Derby, recalled watching her younger brother race years ago.
“That was when they went down Dairy Queen hill,” she said, noting the steep street on which the race once was held.
Videos of past races, including a couple from its early days, can be found on the committee’s website at www.wellsburg4thofjuly.com.
Fowler said of the city’s Independence Day celebration, “It’s always been awesome. A lot of work goes into it and we appreciate all of those who are involved.”