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July 4 in St. Helens will be 'A Time to Remember'

by: SUBMITTED - A parade processional on the perimeter of St. Helens Plaza Park as portrayed in an altered historical photo. The Oregon Historical Society provided the original, unaltered photo.

Independence Day is approaching, and the theme of this year's celebration of the holiday in St. Helens is “A Time to Remember.” But just what time should participants be remembering?

Brenda Herren, reference librarian at the St. Helens Public Library, said that throughout the history of St. Helens and Columbia County, July 4 celebrations have loomed large as a way for people to come together and celebrate their community's past and present.

“It's very much part of the populist and optimistic times, and the recognition of how special it was for America to be founded,” Herren said. “Celebrating America has always been a very big deal.”

This year, event organizer Jeannine "JJ" Duehren is planning a celebration in Old Town St. Helens reminiscent of the festivities of old.

“Back in the old days, the Fourth of July was a really big community event that everybody participated in,” Duehren said.

Herren and library director Margaret Jeffries have been collecting information on the history of Independence Day celebrations in Columbia County, including references in books and newspapers.

A 1983 book by Egbert S. Oliver entitled “Homes in the Oregon Forest: Settling Columbia County, 1870-1920,” described Independence Day as “the one holiday which received the most widespread and elaborate attention” in Columbia County.

Oliver briefly recounted the 1898 celebration, calling it “the most elaborate Fourth of July celebration of the decade … while the war with Spain was on everyone's mind.” That celebration was reported to have also featured a “grand ball,” as well as speeches and prayers offered by reverends.

According to a program published in the St. Helens Mist in 1914, Independence Day events in St. Helens that year included “patriotic airs” from the city band, races of varying lengths and parameters — among them a “fat mens 100 yard dash,” a “ladies free for all 100 yard dash” and a 50-yard sack race — and a baseball game between teams from St. Helens and Kelso, Wash., as well as a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a fireworks show and a dance.

“Being in love with your country should never be an excuse not to have a good time,” Herren said. “If anything, it was a reason to have a good time.”

This year's celebration is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. with a pancake breakfast hosted by the St. Helens Elks Club and a pet parade presented by the Columbia County Humane Society. It will also feature a classic car show, a scavenger hunt, an ice cream eating contest, and a film screening, among other attractions, later in the day.

“It celebrates some of the things that I think Old Town St. Helens is really great at,” said Duehren of the planned program, adding, “We're really not trying to do anything really fancy, because … we don't need to do that. We need to let St. Helens shine through all of this.”

The librarians agreed.

“I know JJ was trying to create a Fourth of July harkening back to a simpler time,” Jeffries said. “And I think that's the 'time to remember' that she wanted to recreate with some of the events she has planned.”

“I think that this is a great opportunity for St. Helens and surrounding areas to reconnect with its past and realize that they are doing the same things that their ancestors did,” Herren said. “You know, it's the community coming together and reaffirming themselves as a community.”

Organizers are still collecting donations for the fireworks display on Sand Island that will cap next Thursday's Independence Day celebration. Checks can be made out to the Fireworks Fund and mailed to Post Office Box 278 in St. Helens. Donations can also be made at any Wauna Federal Credit Union.