For Saginaw Fourth of July fireworks spectators, show represents generations-old traditions

SAGINAW, MI — A Saginaw tradition generations deep, the city’s 2022 Fourth of July fireworks display added a new night of memories for many community members with years of history attending the celebration.

The Monday, July 4, show marked the 39th year since pyrotechnicians first launched fireworks from Ojibway Island, where organizers relocated the celebration once hosted at nearby Hoyt Park.

Families gathered for the latest aerial display, which began after 10 pm and concluded about 10:40 pm

For early arrivers, the show kicked off closer to 8 pm, when pilots with the Flint-based Scream’n Rebels navigated World War II-era North American Aviation T-6 Texan warplanes over the island. On social media, residents across the city. shared photos of the four vintage aircraft buzzing the skies above Saginaw neighborhoods.

Crowds of people populated parking lots, docks, public parks and front porches on both sides of the Saginaw River to watch the fireworks. As the shells popped and burst, though, the sounds reverberated and flashes of light were cast over homes miles away from Ojibway Island.

It was a hot day outdoors for attendees. Even in the hour after the sun set, temperatures remained above 80 degrees. Parts of the state experienced trepidation, but Saginaw dodged the rain up until the show’s final moments, when a light sprinkle rained down alongside ash from the grand finale.

To some Saginaw natives, watching the show up close wasn’t part of their tradition anymore. Still, for them, seeing and hearing Saginaw’s fireworks from afar brought back happy memories.

Susie Sheltraw said she was a child in the 1960s when her father began walking the family to watch the Hoyt Park display. Later, when the number of Sheltraw’s siblings grew to seven, their dad began driving them in the family’s red station wagon to watch the show at an old lumber yard on McCoskry Street, about five blocks north of the park.

“Mom would make us a big bag of popcorn and most of us would sit on the top of the car,” Sheltraw said.

Like Sheltraw, Mike Clark lived within walking distance of the park when he attended the fireworks as a child in the 1960s. He ventured there each Fourth of July for years, hoping for a spot on the park hill where some of those same youths enjoyed sledding in the snow in wintertime.

“I still remember the procession of people walking up and down Washington (Avenue),” said Clark, who grew up on Howard Street. “The hill was full of people.”

A half-century later, Clark still watches the Saginaw fireworks with friends. Each year, they set up a tailgate party — complete with a hot serving of briskets and ribs — near the riverside to enjoy the show, just a few blocks southwest from where he grew up.

Plenty of others hold dear those Hoyt Park-based fireworks memories, including the president of the Saginaw Area Fireworks nonprofit that oversees the show. What remains one of Thomas Roy’s most vivid Fourth of July memories happened when he was 12 in 1976, during the nation’s bicentennial, when many fireworks displays packed an added punch compared to typical years.

Carol Cottrell, the former president of Saginaw Area Fireworks, said such nostalgia was unique to spectators of the Saginaw show billed by organizers as the largest Michigan fireworks display launched on the Fourth of July.

“I love that Saginaw’s history of fireworks means so much to so many people,” said Cottrell, who served as Saginaw’s mayor from 2005-07. “As much as the holiday is about celebrating our freedoms, in Saginaw, the fireworks has been the largest event to bring together people from all segments of our community for one common purpose. ”

For her, memories of the Saginaw fireworks are tied tightly to her late husband, Michael “Mick” Cottrell, who died in 1998. The couple met while working together on the fireworks nonprofit during those early years after the show’s move to Ojibway Island.

They treasured the payoff of their labor on the Fourth, Carol Cottrell said.

“My husband spent a good portion of the show watching the spectators,” she said. “He loved seeing their excitement.”

Organizers estimate between 125,000 to 150,000 people attend the fireworks annually. The exception: 2020, when the show was canceled during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fireworks display returned last year, operating on a record $ 125,000 budget. This year, that price tag grew to $ 135,000, Roy said.

The Ojibway Island-based holiday gathering has grown substantially since its beginnings. General Motors Corp. founded the elaborate Fourth of July show on the island in 1983 as a celebration of the automaker’s 75th anniversary. Back then, about $ 10,000 worth of fireworks were launched into Saginaw’s skies.

An organization, Greater Saginaw Fireworks, during those early years raised money for the show but eventually disbanded due to challenges collecting funds. A new group, Saginaw Firefest Committee, took over the reins in 1987, when the show cost about $ 30,000. That group evolved into the tradition’s current caretaker, Saginaw Area Fireworks.

The nonprofit now carries on a tradition that spans the generations and unites residents from all corners of the community, Cottrell said.

“It doesn’t matter your age, race, religion, economic status or political persuasion; everyone is celebrating our country and its freedoms,” the former mayor said. community is united. ”

Read more on MLive:

WWII-era warplane flyover to kick off Saginaw’s Fourth of July fireworks show

‘More than anybody thought it would be’: A new, 334-acre Saginaw park at old GM site nears finish

Drag show caps return of Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival in Saginaw

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