In Ralston, Independence Day may just be the biggest day of the year - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 11:41 am
celebrating july fourth
In Ralston, Independence Day may just be the biggest day of the year

• Find out where to buy fireworks.

• Discover other activities this week to celebrate Independence Day.

* * *

Some people inherit a house, a car, maybe an old coin collection.

Brad Scott inherited a parade.

For the past 21 years, Scott has spent hundreds of hours poring over parade entries, organizing float lineups and herding everyone from high school marching bands to glad-handing politicians to their proper places in Ralston's Independence Day parade, one of the biggest and most popular Fourth of July bashes in the state.

For Scott, it's all part of the family legacy.

His father, Ed Scott, helped coordinate the first Ralston parade in 1960. It lasted just 15 minutes, and there were few flashy floats, just a rag-tag procession of firetrucks rolling past cornfields.

Now it's grown to a premiere celebration that attracts thousands of spectators and a corps of hardworking volunteers.

The parade kicks off at 1 p.m. every year, starting at 80th and Highland Streets and ending at 75th and Main Streets. This year there are 94 entries. Last year, when temperatures hit 102 degrees, the parade still drew an estimated 42,000 people — more than eight times the population of Ralston.

Ed Scott helmed the parade for 32 years before passing the baton to son Brad in 1992.

“He wanted to give it to me,” Scott said. “And I shouldn't say I was the dumb one, but I said, 'Let me give it a try.' I grew up around the parade. When I was in high school I was helping. I took a year, two years off, and in 1992 I stepped up to the plate.”

Baseball and fireworks

Events: The TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby begins at 7:30 tonight. The 29th annual World-Herald fireworks display will follow. The 22-minute show will feature 6,000 pounds of explosives and more than 30,000 shells.

Tickets: More than 23,000 tickets have been sold, but a few hundred tickets remain. Tickets are $8 for a child, $12 for an adult or $35 for a family four-pack.

Tickets may be purchased in person from the CenturyLink Center box office, by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000, or online at collegehomerunderby.com.

But now, after 21 years, Scott is ready to retire. It's time to take a step back.

Or so he says.

“Well, I shouldn't say done,” Scott said.

He is handing over the main organizing duties to Tara Lea, the Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce president, but that doesn't mean he's sworn off some behind-the-scenes work in the future.

“You couldn't quit cold turkey anyway, could you?” Lea said, laughing.

Lea has spent the past several months getting a crash course in Parades 101, learning from Scott how to organize entries, measure float sizes to make sure everyone fits on Ralston's downtown streets and figure out who goes where in the procession.

Scott's prized tool is a piece of poster board with three-by-five postcards taped to it detailing the entrants, their float sizes and which streets they're assigned to.

The first time Scott planned the route, it took him three days. Now he's got it down to a science — this year he whipped it together in just over an hour.

“I told Tara the first go-around is the toughest, because she's never seen how it works,” Scott said.

There are some tried-and-true rules Scott has learned over the years and is now passing on. Don't place two bands next to each other. Limit parade entries to around 100 or prepare for a parade like the one in 2004, when it took 105 entrants nearly four hours to wind down the milelong parade route.

These are the tips Lea is scrambling to learn, the veteran's perspective that comes from two decades of parade organizing.

“People think it happens overnight, and it doesn't,” Scott said.

The chamber starts prepping as early as April.

“Even when we got the entry forms in, we got them all, but Brad knows there's six or seven people that are in it every year that never fill out a form, so he just leaves space for them because he knows they're coming back,” Lea said.

“I've got it programmed into my head,” Scott said.

In two decades, there have been some notable changes. In 1992, well before cellphones were commonplace, Scott used runners to relay last-minute messages or directions to floats. Now it's just a matter of sending a quick text.

But the heart and soul of the parade remains: the pride residents take in playing host to the rousing red-white-and-blue tribute.

“So many people say I used to come here the whole time I was growing up and now I bring my kids back here to experience the same things I got to,” Lea said. “It's just your good old-fashioned Fourth of July parade.”

But in a town with the nickname Independence City, don't dare call the holiday the Fourth of July. “It has to be Independence Day,” she said.

Lynette Janssen is the pastor of Ralston United Church of Christ, which has been marching in the parade every year since 2007.

“I would say it's the biggest day in the city,” she said. “People work all year for this.”

The church's float this year follows the parade's theme — “let freedom rink,” a tribute to the new Ralston Arena. The float is fashioned like a hockey rink, complete with fake snow and hockey sticks.

“We're a part of Ralston,” Janssen said. “We want people to see us. I usually walk behind it and wave to people and get hit with squirt guns. I see a lot of our parishioners.”

Residents start staking out their spots days before the parade, using blankets and chairs to snag a good seat on the route. As a parade judge, Lana Tribbie gets one of the best seats in the house: the viewing stand.

“Your spot's already saved for you and it's in the shade,” she joked.

This year, the parade is drawing one group from Idaho, another from New Mexico. People come from near and far to a small town that embraces the community aspect of the Fourth of July wholeheartedly, putting on not just a parade but a pie bake and fun run, water fight and fireworks.

“The residents have a really big sense of pride,” Tribbie said. “This is a really big parade and the celebration of the Fourth of July in this metro area, and it's in Ralston. People are proud this celebration is in our small community.”

Contact the writer: Erin Duffy

erin.duffy@owh.com    |   402-444-1210

Erin covers education, primarily Omaha Public Schools.

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