Latrobe 4th fest marks half century, heads for leadership transition
Spectators lining downtown Latrobe streets on Thursday to watch the annual 4th of July Celebration parade will have to wait until the end of the procession to view this year’s grand marshal.
The celebration’s 30-member organizing committee, including longtime Chairwoman Carol Greenawalt of Latrobe, will collectively fill that honorary role, in keeping with the event’s 50th anniversary. The members will join the rear of the lineup after helping to keep the parade’s 100 units in marching order.
“We haven’t had this many sign up to participate in the parade for years,” said Greenawalt. “This might be longer than two hours. We can’t leave the parade to lead it, so we’ll wish everyone well at the end and say thanks for all the years.”
Greenawalt noted this will be her final year heading the committee before she and her husband, Gary, step down to spend more time with family. “It’s getting to be a lot of lifting and a lot of lugging things,” she said, in addition to six months or more of advanced planning. “It’s just time.”
‘Family, Friends and Fun’
This year’s fitting parade float theme, matching the costume theme at the recent Miss 4th of July queen pageant, is “50 Years of Family, Friends and Fun.” About 10 floats are expected in the lineup, as well as queens from past years.
Food is one of the main attractions on the festival’s midway at Legion Keener Park, which also will offer craft and game booths and live entertainment Sunday through Thursday . “People come down and smell the funnel cakes and all the food, and it makes them hungry,” Greenawalt said. Carnival rides begin Monday.
Greenawalt has chaired the festival since 1990. She volunteered during the seven preceding years, using her skills as a hairdresser to prepare queen candidates for the pageant and recruiting her son, Scott, then 8, to serve as the crown-bearer.
The pageant is one of two annual festival lead-in events that migrated from the Legion Keener band shell to indoor venues. The pageant in recent years has been held in the Greater Latrobe Senior High School auditorium.
A patriotic interfaith service was held for many years in the Latrobe Elementary School auditorium. Since that building recently was closed and sold to a private firm, this year’s service was held at Latrobe Presbyterian Church.
Dawna Bates of Unity, a retired Latrobe school teacher, is a member of the community choir that performs during the event. More recently, she’s taken over coordinating the service and selecting speakers, roles she plans to continue.
In 2011, Bates, who is a volunteer at the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County, scheduled a representative from that site to speak at Latrobe’s service. Bates was among Red Cross personnel who responded in the aftermath of the airplane crash that occurred 10 years earlier as passengers and crew took action against terrorist hijackers.
“When I speak to kids, I try to impress upon them the importance of the decisions they make every day,” Bates said. “Those people, when they made their decision, they changed the world.”
Bates takes part in other aspects of the Latrobe 4th celebration. She register participants for the 5-mile run and 2-mile walk, which was held Friday, and marches in the parade, carrying the banner for the Greater Latrobe Alumni Band. “Every year we get a little bit smaller, but we keep it going,” said Bates, a 1966 alumna.
Latrobe’s 4th festival had its start in 1969, when three men who eventually served as mayors of Latrobe — Angelo Caruso and the late Tony Angelo and Warren Marckioni — joined forces. Inspired by Caruso’s tradition of organizing an Independence Day block party on Irving Avenue, the men mustered support from local businesses, fraternal groups and churches to develop a community-wide celebration.
“For the first couple of years, we were a little lean,” Caruso recalled. “After that, it caught on pretty good. Our idea was we wanted to have something every day, a lively 4th of July with a lot of action down at the park.”
Elements that have remained essential parts of the festivities include the queen pageant, band concerts, the parade and a concluding fireworks display.
A baked goods contest and auction also has become a staple. “Years ago we had a horseshoe-pitching contest, but we didn’t have enough participants, so we stopped that,” Greenawalt said.
Activities that brought added interest to the event included display of a rock astronauts brought back from the moon, skydivers, hot air balloon rides and scheduling of a state lottery drawing in Latrobe. There have been military flyovers and military vehicles on the streets for the parade.
Famous Latrobe sons Arnold Palmer and Fred Rogers each appeared in the parade, Caruso noted.
Since planning for the celebration begins well in in advance, town officials are anxious to get new leaders in place to take over from the Greenawalts. “We don’t want to lose this 50-year tradition,” said Mayor Rosie Wolford.
Greenawalt asked anyone who has an interest in assuming the chairmanship to contact her at 724-537-8417.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .