About 8,000 people flooded Rose Stadium in anticipation of the first citywide Fourth of July celebration in 1964, recalls Richard “Dick” Rubin, 78, who proposed the Independence Day celebration project as a member of the Tyler Jaycees.
The Jaycees spearheaded many community events that became tradition for many East Texans including the annual fireworks show, haunted house, Christmas parade and an Easter egg hunt for the blind.
“During the past years, the Jaycees have been the backbone of doing the groundwork on a number of civic endeavors,” Rubin said.
The Jaycees organization was started in 1931 to offer young professionals valuable leadership experience through community involvement.
As the father of the idea that sparked a 50-year tradition, Rubin proposed the project to the Jaycees because of the lack of patriotism.
“Patriotism in this country was as low as I’ve ever seen it,’ he said.
According to a 1964 article on the first celebration, the Emmett Scott High School band and a combined band with members from Robert E. Lee High School, John Tyler High School and Tyler Junior College kicked off the program, followed by a fly over by four F-102 jet planes from Perrin Air Force Base in Sherman.
Former mayor Arch Dullnig gave the opening address, expressing hope for residents to preserve their freedom as American citizens.
Other performances throughout the program consisted of a song by Miss Tyler of 1964, Jan Grimes; marches by the U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve, and Civil Air Patrol; and a rain dance and performance to “God Bless America” by the Cub Scouts.
The explosion of multicolored fireworks lighting the sky ended the night.
“We had hoped it would’ve evolved into a daylong celebration that would include a parade, but back in those early days, that was way beyond our expectations,” Rubin said.
Rubin said the event drew the one of the largest integrated crowds in the city at a time where segregation and the civil rights movement were issues throughout the country.
“We were really worried about the flyover, everything coming around and the integrated crowd,” he said. “Tyler was a segregated community back then. Then all of a sudden to have a mix crowd of people with fireworks being exploded into the stands, you really don’t know what’s going to transpire.”
One Tyler police officer and 19 police reserves helped control the crowd and flow of people entering the stadium during the event, Rubin said.
Rubin led a committee of 15 to 20 people for the Independence Day celebration, which rallied 23 financial sponsors for the first year.
“I can’t tell you the amount of people and hours of work that was put into it,” he said. “It wasn’t just about getting the fireworks — you had to get the fire department OK it, you had to have an insurance policy, a public display and sponsors,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to those who are picking up the tab this year.”
Because the Jaycees have disbanded this year because of a lack of membership, the city of Tyler, with primary sponsor state Sen. Kevin Eltife, is coordinating a free event at 6 p.m. Saturday at Lindsey Park. The park, at 12557 Spur 364 West, has been the playground of the celebration since 1994.
Recent celebrations have drawn out 30,000 people and include musical performances, children’s entertainment and food sold by local vendors.
Unlike in 1964, patriotism is at its peak in the country, which contributes to the larger crowds, Rubin said.
“There’s respect for the armed forces,” he said. “It’s a change in thinking towards wars and what these people give up. Part of it could be because back then it was strictly a drafting type of situation where now it’s mostly volunteer.”
Kenneth Barron, 77, who was president of the Tyler Jaycees in 1964, said the Independence Day celebration was worthwhile and well received from the community from the beginning.
“Our idea was important enough that it has become a monumental tradition for this area,” he said.
Barron said coming together as a community to give recognition to the founding of the nation was important and missing from Tyler at the time.
“Freedom and all those things that the United States stands for needs to be remembered, preserved and celebrated,” he said