SUMMIT, NJ - On July 4th, 1776, the forefathers of the United States declared their independence from Britain, signaling the beginning of what would become one of the greatest countries in the world. America is the land of opportunity – a place where people all over the world come to in hopes of fulfilling their dreams, and a nation beloved by its citizens. Independence Day is held each year not only to commemorate the signing of the Declaration, but also to recognize the country as a whole. This can be done by holding family barbeques or by shooting off firecrackers or even by just thinking about the true spirit of the United States. Yet for Summit residents, the Fourth of July means only one thing – honoring America with an all-out community celebration.

The Summit Mayor’s Annual Fourth of July Celebration was held for a milestone 65th year this Independence Day in Soldier’s Memorial Field. The event featured attractions for patriots of all ages, including rides, a flag raising ceremony, a children’s decorated bicycle competition and parade, a city services softball game, food from America’s Kettle Corn and Mike’s Ice Cream, and live music. Of course, a Fourth of July festival would be nothing without
fireworks, and a display indeed did close out the evening. This year, the special fireworks detonators were members of the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

“It’s an exciting day,” said Judith Leblein Josephs, Director of Summit Community Programs. Though the event has become an annual mainstay, Josephs pointed out that it could not exist without monetary contributions.

“For 65 years, the Celebration has been only funded by donations from residents, corporations, and some of the larger businesses in town,” said Josephs. “It’s an expensive proposition … but it’s a tradition held dear.”

According to Josephs, the cost of holding the event is almost $100,000, a financial burden that could not be met without the help of sponsors Investors Bank, Overlook Medical Hospital, Celgene, Equinox, and Merck. Bill Coakley, Merck’s Executive Director of Facilities, said his company was proud to be involved with the Celebration.

“Merck is part of the community,” he said. “[We] believe in giving back to the community, either through donations or individual support and volunteerism.”

Josephs said that over 6,000 people were expected to attend the event this year, a figure which surely includes numerous families. The Celebration was certainly a familial affair for Terry, Mike, and Sara Vena, who enjoyed picnicking at last year’s event so much that this time they brought extended relatives.

“We’re just glad to come out and spend time with our family,” said Terry. “That’s the whole goal of this – to be together.”

For Doug Gamble and Bonnie Reid, the Celebration also marked a special family occasion – their eleventh wedding anniversary. The couple came all the way from Carmel, California, to see their friends The Cameos, an oldies band performing at the event.

“We go to as many shows as we can,” said Gamble. “We love their music.”

But Gamble said the Celebration was more than a night of music – it was a time to show appreciation for America.

“We are very patriotic,” he said. “I think Independence Day would have to be the most important U.S. holiday because of what it represents – freedom from oppression.”

Harriet Cannella, who came to the event with Gamble and Reid, agreed that pride in the United States was the most important aspect of the Celebration.

“That’s what it’s all about really, patriotism, which we’re lacking a lot of in this country right about now,” said Cannella.

The Celebration is definitely a major city event. Al Martino understands that fact quite well, having attended almost every year when he was younger. He was even a judge for this year’s bicycle decorating competition. Now, as a part of Merck, Martino is making sure that it continues for many more Fourth of Julys to come.

“It’s a tradition in Summit,” said Martino. “It’s a good event to gather everyone here in the community and spend the night together with the music and the fireworks.”

On that very first Fourth of July all those years ago, the founding fathers started the United States with just the dream that it would become a free and prosperous country for its citizens. This Independence Day, the residents of Summit affirmed that dream by coming together as a community to honor their nation.