By Don McAlvy: Columnist
Thirty-nine years ago on July Fourth, a man and his wife and two children were sitting around thinking there ought to be something to do. The only celebration of July Fourth was some fireworks at the drive-in theater north of Clovis, and people had to pay to get in.
Charlie Wade, a business man, got to thinking, “Why can’t we have a giant fireworks display just like Amarillo?” He got in touch by phone with the Amarillo Globe-News and found that newspaper was the sponsor of the fireworks. That led to Mr. Burnett who runs the Western Enterprises Company out of Enid, Okla.
Burnett said they could put together supplies and fire the variety of animated and exploding fireworks the same for Clovis.
Next thing you know Charlie talked to then Mayor Chick Taylor Jr. and he was all for it, even suggesting the city put up half the money if the Chamber of Commerce would do the same. The Chamber chose not to participate, so Charlie went out and raised $1,000 on his own and put on the first giant fireworks display, making sure it would be free to the public.
Charlie had built up the sponsorship to around 35 businesses and businessmen who each put up $100 for the purchase of the fireworks. The cost rose to around $5,000 later on.
“The secret,” said Charlie, “is timing, firing the devices just at the right time and keeping the show moving.
“Of course, the people come mainly to see the fireworks, with many coming early to get a good seat at the Leon Williams football field with plenty of bleachers.”
Years later the fireworks display was moved out to Ned Houk Park on the Running Water Draw owned by the city. It didn’t work out too well as hundreds of cars all tried, about the same time, to get back to the highway. An emergency came up when a car with a woman expecting delivery of a baby soon was trapped in the traffic. It worked out that she didn’t deliver and got to the hospital on time. That’s when the fireworks moved back to the football field.
To fill in and entertain the people before the fireworks were set off beginning around dark, Charlie always tried each year to have a band, or a patriotic flag ceremony, or some well-known figure to make a brief address (the briefer, the better for most folks).
John Urban, the “Voice of the Wildcats,” added a touch of class with his introduction of the band and musical numbers.
Charlie eventually retired from running the July Fourth fireworks event. Charlie was named “Man of the Year” for all the work he had done.
Another good man and wife, Tom and Gail Martin, stepped in to take over Charlie’s chores and the Great Clovis Fireworks continues getting better and better.