Fourth of July Event Returns to Cheadle Park

A woman plays cornhole at Lebanon, OR's Fourth of July at Cheadle Lake.
April Brown, left, prepares to throw a beanbag during a cornhole game at Lebanon’s Fourth of July Celebration while Liz Tuller, right, waits her turn. Photos by Sarah Brown

Lebanon families returned to Cheadle Lake Park for the first time in four years to celebrate Fourth of July in true summer festivities fashion.

Green surroundings provide a scenic backdrop for those who attended Lebanon’s Fourth of July Celebration at Cheadle Lake Park.

After four years of only getting to watch a fireworks show from a street side somewhere along Cheadle Lake, families once again got to experience the city’s more traditional-style event by gathering together at the park for daytime activities and entertainment, followed by a colorful sky display.

“We had fun, it was very nice,” said Judy Wyrick, who attended the daytime activities with her husband, Rick, and their grandson, Emilio Zepeda.

Rick said he appreciated the precautions taken for alcohol safety at the park, and Judy indicated she liked the diverse range of music.

A couple of other attendees noted the event provided a nice baseline for the board to build upon for future years. Refreshing observations of the day included a cool breeze that cut through the heat and children seen finding ways to entertain themselves without technology.

Someone dances to music performed by Mister Wizard.

The 20th annual Lebanon celebration of the nation’s independence included live music from six different performers, beer and food vendors, and cornhole games for a little family fun. The pre-sale entrance fee was $5, and day-off entrance cost $10.

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Lebanon has been a seemingly precarious roller coaster ride during the past several years as two nonprofit organizations cut the event from their roster and the pandemic curtailed any real hope for a solid gathering.

But as concerns about the epidemic declined and a concerted effort from the newly-formed Lebanon’s Fourth of July Celebration nonprofit grew, it seems the community is gaining a foothold toward building the beloved event back into what it once started out to be.

Guests stand in line to purchase kettle korn.

Lebanon’s first annual Fourth of July “Star Spangled Celebration” took place in 2004 through the efforts of the Lebanon Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization originally formed by the Strawberry Festival Board for the purpose of acquiring property for the festival.

One of the initial board members, Warren Beeson, said he’d been wanting the city to host a spectacular Fourth of July event for quite some time, but there was no good location to do it.

“My idea was an old-fashioned, family-oriented Fourth of July celebration where people could spend most of the day there, and the kids would have games to play and things to do,” Beeson told Lebanon Local in 2018.

He envisioned booths for food vendors and community organizations, and, of course, the fireworks show at night. Once LCF acquired what is now Cheadle Lake Park, Beeson had his ideal location, but, as with everything, they needed money to make the celebration a reality. It was a problem solved after he and LCF Finance Director Ronn Passmore pursued sponsorships through area businesses.

Korbin Lewis, 8, left, runs as Logan Leaton, 4, chases him during some outdoor self-entertainment at Cheadle Lake Park.

In 2017, LCF was budgeting $11,000 for the fireworks, and it cost an additional $9,000 to $11,000 to secure all other aspects of one of the city’s largest events. That was also the same year LCF transferred ownership of the park to the City of Lebanon.

The fireworks shows during the course of the annual Star Spangled Celebration consisted of three-inch shells that allowed viewers to sit relatively close to the pyrotechnic show, and for many years it often concluded with a “wall of fire” that blasted a wave of heat through the crowd.

Passmore shared in 2017 that the Star Spangled Celebration not only offered a family-oriented community event, but it was also intended to raise funds to support the development and maintenance of Cheadle Lake Park. He estimated up to 800 vehicles arrived for the event, ushering in as many as 2,500 attendees, give or take, culminating in approximately $7,000 to $8,000 in funding through entrance fees.

However, Beeson’s original idea of an all-day event with vendors and children’s activities was short-lived, having lasted only four years until an economic downturn in 2008 forced the foundation to reduce the show to only a fireworks display at night. It is unclear when vendors and activities returned.

In late 2019, LCF announced they would no longer operate the Star Spangled Celebration due to a number of factors, which included too few volunteers and event-cost versus profit.

“They were doing it as a fundraiser,” Interim City Manager Ron Whitlatch shared with the city council that year. “Cost was about $25,000 and they were only making about $2,000.”

Visitors enjoy each other’s company while Johnathan Sterling performs in the background.

LCF Board Member LeAnn Kennedy in 2019 emphasized the amount of time and commitment needed to put on the event, something that required manpower they could not invest. Board President Jolene Watson explained it took about 500 man-hours to put the event on every year, which was not only hard to do but also took away from the foundation’s main focus.

“We’re kind of looking at ourselves going, ‘We’re the Lebanon Community Foundation, so we’re not all about the park, but that’s where we’ve put all our time, energy and money for the last decades’,” Watson said.

As LCF released itself from the Star Spangled Celebration, board members felt confident another organization would step in and take over.

“The volunteerism in Lebanon is phenomenal,” Watson said. “I’m sure there’s other groups that could do it.”

It was the Strawberry Festival Board that took up the commitment, but it also happened right on the cusp of the COVID pandemic. Anticipating statewide mandates would be lifted by July 2020, the board pushed the 111th annual Strawberry Festival forward one month in order to combine the festival with the fireworks show.

The Scalawags FIRST Robotics team 1359 introduce themselves.

“Although we are disappointed that the traditional weekend for the festival is not ideal for this year under the current circumstances, we are passionate about providing an opportunity for the community to come together, to heal and celebrate in July,” Strawberry Festival Chairperson Cindy Kerby said.

It was the Strawberry Festival Board that carried Lebanon’s Fourth of July celebration throughout the years-long pandemic, but all they could provide was fireworks shot over Cheadle Lake, without any gatherings at the park.

In early 2023, the board announced it would no longer host a Fourth of July show because it happened too close to their main focus – June’s Strawberry Festival – and, as such, manpower for a July event was in short supply. Additionally, pyrotechnic companies were also in short supply.

“We’ve done the fireworks for a couple years just to have fireworks for Lebanon,” Kerby said during a public city meeting in 2023. “It was something the community really wanted, so we just did it.”

By then, the festival board was spending about $15,000 on fireworks. Kerby said if another organization could take over, they would need to secure the funding and arrange logistics for safely shooting over the lake.

Cheadle Lake Park visitors watch a performer during daytime entertainment on Fourth of July.

It wasn’t long before Country Financial insurance agent Jamie Eriksen stepped up to keep the Independence Day festivities moving forward. She explained that a client approached her with the news and asked her to take over, knowing she wanted to do something with local impact. After discussing the matter with her team, Eriksen decided to “go for it,” calling it an important tradition.

“Country [Financial]’s motto is ‘Enriching the lives in the communities we serve,’ so everything I do in the community, it boils back to that,” she said. “Am I enriching the lives in the communities I serve?”

Eriksen had only three months to dive into the deep end and come out with a successful city event. Her and her team formed a new nonprofit for what is now called Lebanon’s Fourth of July Celebration. The strategic move essentially gave the holiday its own board of directors so its focus would solely be on the annual event.

“This is an important enough celebration that it should be its own entity,” Eriksen said last year.

Mallory McMichael plays a game with Emilio Zepeda, 2, and her son Summit Kelly, 3, while Emilio’s grandparents watch in the background.

As she began securing sponsorships to keep the festivity alive, it was, like her predecessors, the need for volunteers that would guarantee just how much she could do for the community. Her vision was to open the event back to its original concept, creating a “backyard barbecue family picnic and fireworks” type of atmosphere.

This year, the event was organized by the Lebanon’s Fourth of July Celebration board of directors. President Katie Bryan indicated Cafe Rock played a big role in securing the entertainment and refreshments, and some of the board members brought games for families.

The board opted to use five-inch shells with a $25,000 budget, which meant they’d be unable to provide the up-close experience at the park for the community. As such, they shot the fireworks over Cheadle Lake and provided a

Jaiden Horton prepares buns for food orders at Cafe Rock’s booth.

section at the boat ramp for sponsors and veterans.

Bryan shared that celebrating Fourth of July has always been important to her because her dad served in the military.

“Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday,” she said. “I love watching the fireworks and getting together, just hanging out and celebrating America.”