EVERGLADES CITY — Everglades City celebrated the Fourth of July early, hosting a parade, a rally with area office holders and candidates and a fireworks display on Saturday, June 30. The former Collier County seat surrounded on all sides by Everglades National Park boasts barely enough people to both march in the parade and provide spectators, so the parade leaned heavily on the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, with another large contingent provided by the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, coming from as far away as Fort Myers.
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk was there in person, riding in the Sheriff’s confiscated and tricked out Camaro, and Victor Ortino, his rival for the job, was on hand as well. The SO also provided the color guard and motorcycle escort to lead the parade, the “Crime Stoppers” float complete with young judge Seth Hooks dispensing justice and stripe-clad “inmates” behind bars in the lockup, plus a banner heralding the Crime Stoppers’ tip line – 800-780-TIPS, for reporting suspected criminal activity.
The sheriff also featured one of the rowboats constructed by youths and deputies in the “Build a Boat” program, and an escort of patrol cars to close out the parade. But first place in the parade float competition went to the Marine Corps League, with their three-dimensional rendition of raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Clay and Grace Schaetzel accepted the trophy.
There was plenty of room for spectators in the shade of the historic Everglades City Hall, although some youngsters got right out next to the parade route, the better to scoop up the candy being tossed from the swamp buggies, pickup trucks and convertibles parading by. The festivities started with a bang, with an antique howitzer firing a blast, courtesy of a crew including father and son Eric and Kevin Smith.
Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart spoke at the opening ceremonies, but couldn’t stay for the parade. Collier Commissioner Donna Fiala also spoke at the opening ceremonies, and fellow commissioner Jim Coletta got there as soon as he could finish with a previous commitment. Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, commission candidate Tim Nance, and County Judge Vince Murphy also came to be a part of the festivities.
“I love these things,” said Murphy, gesturing at the scene around city hall. “This is Americana – it’s just wonderful.”
“It’s great that (Everglades City Mayor) Sammy Hamilton schedules it on a Saturday, so the working people can be part of it,” added Linda Murphy, Vince’s wife.
Candidate Larry Ray, running for re-election as tax collector, made the most friends for his cause, though, providing fans emblazoned with his name, which were in use everywhere as people cooled themselves off on the warm morning.
After the parade, everyone trooped over to McLeod Park for awards, a bake sale by the Church of God youth group, and a water slide and face painting for the kids. In addition to parade floats, awards were presented for “Little Miss Firecracker” contestants, decked out in patriotic finery. Shaylee De Leon, 3, was thrilled to win in her age category, although it may have actually meant more to mom Dala De Leon, who assembled her ensemble.
The Church of God youth group held a bake sale, and the Copeland Baptist Church fired up the grill, selling hotdogs and hamburgers to raise money for a new air conditioner for the parsonage. Kim Perraud sold raffle tickets to benefit the historical museum.
That evening, a fireworks display was scheduled, leaving local residents free to travel to Marco Island or Naples on the actual Fourth of July to take in their extravaganzas, or just stay home and relax, having gotten their patriotic duties taken care of ahead of time.