How The 4th of July Celebration Began In Leon County

In the summer of 1975 Jacquelyn Wakefield was driving through Kansas on her way to her grandfather?s funeral and drove through Hugoton. The small town was having their 4th of July Celebration and it was as if time had stopped for all the townspeople. The impressive celebratory festivities included bathing beauty contests, picnics and games. It was there in that small town where Jacquelyn had the idea that just such an event should take place in Leon County. When she returned home, shecontacted Mrs. Lorene Dickey, chairman of the Leon County Historical Commission with the idea. Mrs. Dickey was happy because coincidentally, in order to earn the1976 Bi-Centennial flag for our county, we were required by the state to host a celebration. When the two ideas came together, the search for local people interested in planning the first ever Leon County Fourth of July Celebration began.

Once the vision was shared throughout the county, many volunteers stepped forward to plan, organize and implement the first ever celebration. Some of the original committee members from around the county included Sam Wingfield, Barbra Gregory, Lorene Dickey, Teddy Ray Rodell, Lois Goolsby, Jacquelyn Wakefield, Emma Lou Bass, Beth Rodell, James Nash, Mac Leon Bennett, Warren Robeson, Anna Lee Gresham, Benny Coleman, JD Hines, Wendell Bell, Bub Seale, George Ward and Joe Langley.

The first annual Leon County Fourth of July Celebration originated in 1975 and was held in the county seat of Centerville on the courthouse lawn. It was one of a three part program of events staged to earn the Bi-Centennial Flag. The celebration was such an overwhelming success that it became an annual event that is still considered a high point in Leon County each summer. Approximately 2,000 people attended the original celebration with television coverage by Channel 10. Program activities included the Ross Volunteers of Texas A&M University as color guard with our own local resident Stuart Gregory participating. The Bi Centennial project as a promotion sent a helicopter with three men, costumed in 1776 attire for the program on the court house lawn. Mr.& Mrs. Sakowitz of Houston, quest of Mrs. Black, attended to watch her graciously spin her Antique spinning wheel for all.

There was a Bar-B-Q lunch, an old-fashioned fiddlers contest, patriotic choir performances and a beautiful fireworks display.

The second annual celebration added activities that featured a fascinating display of antique framing equipment, the Texas Agriculture Products brought their air conditioned mobile unit which housed video and displays of Texas products. Local county resident, James Nash, introduced his book which told the history of Indian culture in Leon County while the crowds of spectators were treated to demonstrations of authentic Indian dances and an antique weaving loom. Andre Schwab?s map of Leon County featured historical points of interest and was displayed for all to see. The Centerville First United Methodist Church held an open house celebrating their 123rd anniversary.

In 1977, the celebration new events included the sale of Fox and Gates book, History of Leon County. There was a wild animal show and of course the ever-popular beard growing contest was held.

In 1978, the Gazebo on the Leon County courthouse lawn was unveiled with a dedicated purpose of being the focal point for all future Leon County Fourth of July Celebrations.

In 1979, the Leon County Heritage Museum was opened in the original courtroom of the old county courthouse. This year was the first year of the now annual Leon County Marathon Race.

Down through the years the celebration has featured anything from tigers, armadillo races, rodeos, horse racing, bake sales, bicycle races, egg toss, 42 tournament, baking and canning contests, quilt contests, talent contests, live bands, street dances, arts and craft vendor booths, food trucks, auctions, Miss 4th of July Beauty Pageant, stick horse races, hay hauling contest, horseshoe and washer pitching, wagon rides and trail rides. The committee produced a hilarious ?Hee Haw Show, Rodeo, and Can Can girls in old court room. One year an Army cooking tent was loaned for comfort although members will remember the task of putting it up.

Special recognition is given to Susan Mullen for her artwork featured on the official Leon County 4th of July activity poster each year.

The members of the Leon County Fourth of July Celebration have always considered this annual event a basic part of summer life and pledged their efforts to its continuation. The celebration has made our county aware of our underlying foundation of patriotism and continues to provide an excellent time for old and new friends to stop and visit for a day or two.At the end of the day one year a youngster said, ?wish we would have this every week?.

Funds were always a must and will always be in going forward with this celebration for years to come.

Some more additional names for original committee: JD Hines & Essie, Julian Wakefield, Bonner Murph, Robert Gresham, Beatrice Danford, Peggy & Jr Easterling, Andre & Evelyn Schwab, Martha Oden, A C Barnett, Parthena Van Wey, Bobbie Hardee, Virginia Brown, Oveta Burleson, Lois Goolsby, Ruby Johnson, A C Barger, Diane & Freddie Howle, Joyce Petty, and George Ward.