The year was 1927. Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, work began on Mount Rushmore and the Alpha Fire Company in State College started a tradition lasting over 75 years.
What began as the Alpha Fire Company carnival and parade, soon turned into a major community event called, Central PA 4thFest. It was eventually taken over by its current organization, Central Pennsylvania July 4th, Inc.
This year, the Central PA 4thFest committee wanted to do something new and significant; something positive to celebrate and be proud of the Happy Valley community, so the “America’s Got Heroes Parade of Heroes” committee was born.
“Adding a parade to 4thFest has been an idea for years. This year it finally became a reality. There is actually quite a history of parades on the Fourth of July in State College. We are bringing a tradition back,” said Bernie Keisling, Executive Director, Central PA 4thFest.
“I started talking to ‘old-timer’ locals and unfolding stories of parades and how it used to be a tradition for the community,” he said.
Keisling has been involved with 4thFest for nine years after living in State College for only one year. He wanted to ‘be a part of the community,’ and he did just that, soon becoming the Executive Director.
Another passionate volunteer for 4thFest is on his sixth year, working closely on the Americas Got Heroes Parade of Heroes.
“It is no secret that Happy Valley’s image has been tarnished in various ways this past year. The 4thFest’s Board of Directors felt that the constant barrage of negative media exposure was not reflective of the true nature of our community. Through many conversations, it became clear that we needed something positive to celebrate and become proud, once again, of who we are as a community,” said Charles Gable, Treasurer, Central PA 4thFest.
Gable will tell you that various board members pointed out that this community is rich with people who go above and beyond the norm. They do incredible work with charities and selflessly give up their time and expertise, sometimes even risking their own safety, in the service of others.
“This is who we are and members of the 4thFest board wanted to tell this story. That is how the theme of “America’s Got Heroes” evolved. We turned to the community to nominate people who they felt to be a hero. We wanted them to tell those stories, and they have. We have heroes, but needed a platform to publicly thank them and recognize their efforts. A parade seemed to be the natural fit for this. So, the concept for the 4thFest’s “Parade of Heroes” was born,” said Gable.
Many of the local heroes that have been nominated struggle to see that they deserve to be recognized, thinking the real heroes are our forefathers.
Vice President/Fund Raising Co-Chair for the 4thFest Executive Committee Patrick Knobloch describes the excitement that was seen as the idea started to take shape.
“The holiday was originally an opportunity to commemorate the birth of the nation and the wisdom and sacrifices our forefathers who were the original American heroes. We took that idea, talked about it for a while and came to the realization that we still have “heroes” in our community and across the nation and they should be acknowledged and recognized. From that, it was a short leap to the American's Got Heroes program and parade,” Knobloch said.
“We have gotten volunteers and support from places we never expected. People in our community love the idea of recognizing our local heroes and have readily joined us to help create and develop this vision into something we hope will continue for years and expand into other communities,” he said.
According to Gable, there are currently 550 volunteers.
“4thFest is truly a labor of love. All 550 volunteers are fantastic people, many of whom have become close personal friends. It is the ultimate exercise in team building, where everyone’s individual gifts, talents, and expertise seamlessly complement one another to produce the nation’s largest and best all-volunteer Fourth of July celebration. It truly is a feat our founding fathers would be proud of,” Gable said.
For Gable, the parade has been an honor because it has helped the community heal the wounds inflicted this past year.
“Everyone on the parade committee is dedicated to this mission — thanking those heroes who do things, both small and large, to make all of our lives a little bit better. The parade and the heroes we recognize in it are just one more event in the larger day of activities, where we set all things aside to celebrate our great nation and the heroes it produces,” Gable said.