The History of the Rancho Cordova 4th of July



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July 3 & 4, 2015 - Hagan Park, Rancho Cordova

The History of the Rancho Cordova 4th of July

No community event reflects the "spirit of Rancho Cordova" like the Fourth of July. It is an all volunteer effort that, like our city, evolves with each passing year, growing and improving upon itself. It has become the signature event of our community and the largest Fourth of July event in the region.


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Why? It may have something to do with the military heritage of Rancho Cordova. Home for 75 years to the late, great Mather Air Force Base, our patriotic roots run deep. Even though Mather Air Force Base has been converted to civilian use, Rancho Cordova is still home to thousands of veterans who retired here from Mather.

It may also be tied to our long affiliation with providing for the nation's defense through the Aerojet company. During the 1960s, with Aerojet working to put a man on the moon, more than 20,000 employees worked at Aerojet in Rancho Cordova. The people who came to work at Aerojet during those years built our town. The creation of Rancho Cordova truly was "rocket science!"
With our history firmly rooted in the high-flying achievements of both Aerojet and Mather Air Force Base, our patriotic spirit is expressed in many ways. When the City of Rancho Cordova was born on July 1, 2003, our first City Council chose to make our street signs red, white and blue - yet another tribute to the All American City we aspire to be.

It should come as a surprise to no one that Rancho Cordova would embrace the most American of holidays and celebrate it in a big way. Although this year we say we will be celebrating the 31st Annual Rancho Cordova Fourth of July, longtime residents remember gathering for fireworks and barbecues much earlier. In fact, celebrating the Fourth of July here dates back to the Gold Rush and a time when we were known as "Hangtown Crossing."
In the past two and a half decades, the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July celebration has evolved and grown in many ways, but it still offers many free events designed to bring families together to celebrate the birth of freedom in America. Along the way, our event has had both its ups and downs, but through it all, we continue to honor our own heritage as a community and the common values we cherish as Americans.

The modern Rancho Cordova Fourth of July has always been a volunteer effort. Through the 1990s it was loved and nurtured by a civic organization called "Cordova Pride." Led by Julie Gasbarro, the group was relatively small; but its enthusiastic members worked to build a parade boasting a wonderful "hometown flavor" and a fireworks display that drew thousands to the fields around Mills Middle School every Fourth of July.
It was during these years that Cordova Pride found a powerful partner in the Rancho Cordova Kiwanis Club. Wanting to help Cordova Pride preserve and grow our local event, the Kiwanis Club took over sponsorship and management of the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July Parade, a gift they gave the community year in and year out. The parade remains the "heart" of our Fourth of July event, proudly making its way down Coloma Road and into Hagan Park.

As the 1990s gave way to the new century, it became apparent that to endure and grow, Cordova Pride and Kiwanis Club would need more help. It was a heady time in Rancho Cordova, with incorporation efforts unifying and inspiring the community in new ways. With an eye to developing a Fourth of July celebration to match, David Sander and Shelly Blanchard teamed up to give the event a new focus and the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July Committee was born in 2001 under the theme "Unity in the Community."

Since that time, the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July Committee has reached many new milestones as it has worked to make Hagan Park a magical place during the days leading up to the Fourth of July. It has created wonderful memories for many, and at times has suffered some growing pains.
One big change was to move the fireworks show from Mills Middle School into Hagan Park in 2005. That was not without controversy. The ensuing battle over how the fireworks had to co-exist with the American River Parkway became front page news across the area, and had some unexpected results. The news exposure catapulted the event into the spotlight of the region, attracting more people than ever to hear concerts by "The Coasters" and "Pablo Cruise" and to enjoy not one, but two nights of fireworks.
Another improvement was to extend the event to two days. The longer celebration, in turn, made it possible to add more offerings, like a carnival, top flight entertainment, and the addition of more amenities like concert stages, wonderfully shady tents and more food and beverage options. A Beer Garden was added.

In 2006, the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July expanded into a third day with the inaugural Rancho Cordova "Picnic Day," celebrating 101 Things to Do in Hagan Park. Visitors from across the region swarmed to hear concerts by "Heatwave" and "Kansas." Once again, Rancho Cordova's Fourth of July made news when its final night of fireworks was cut short. But the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July had established itself as the leading celebration in the region.
In 2007, a four-day visit by the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales made for a memborable Fourth of July. One of the giant horses invited to Rancho Cordova City Council Chambers and was presented with a key to the city - the only four-legged recipient of the award to this day.

In 2014, a new group took over the parade:  Immersion Team brought a new group of enthusiastic volunteers to the table, and with guidance from Kiwanis Club, are guiding the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July Parade into the future.

Another new facet of the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July was also added in 2014:  The All America City 5K Run/Walk.  More than 400 people came out to kick off their Independence Day holiday with a run that came down the parade route – just before the marching started.  Ashley Mellott is the race director bringing back the All America City 5K again in 2015.

While an executive committee provides the year 'round management of the event, it is the dozens of corporate sponsors and exuberant volunteers from the community of Rancho Cordova that truly make it all happen. You will know them by their special t-shirts when you visit our event. 

Some volunteers have received special honors.
  • In 2005, Jim and Jeri McDonald, and their sons, Sam and James, became our first "All American Volunteers" for their tireless work on behalf of the Fourth of July.
  • In 2006, we honored a trio of heroes - Sean Still, Mike Richards and Tommy Walters - as our "All American Volunteers."
  • In 2007, Mary and Ray Croxen and Aaron Jones went above the call of duty. We are deeply indebted to them all.
  • In 2008, it was the hard work of Brian Danzl who brought his considerable electrician skills to bear, who was recipient of this prestigious Rancho Cordova award.
  • In 2009, Wayne Harmer would become our most valuable Fourth of July volunteer, working behind the scenes to help produce power, power up generators and snap fencing into place.
  • In 2010, Lloyd Lagerstrom was recognized for seeking out the difficult jobs and quietly getting them done. He does everything to a high standard and never shirks a tough job.
  • In 2012, Karen Teague was honored for transforming the "Night Hawks," the night patrol that keeps the Park safe, into the best organized, most motivated group of volunteers we have ever seen.
  • In 2012, Linda Condon was honored for the quality of care and feeding she provided to over 250 volunteers who help make this event a success
  • In 2013, Jerry and Erika Johnson and family who care about their community so much they make the community their family business. 
The Rancho Cordova Fourth of July has become a star-spangled badge of honor for the people of our young city. If you have attended our event in the past couple of years, congratulations; we expect to see you this year for a celebration that will be our best ever.
And if you have not experienced the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July, you are cordially invited to please join us! We promise that from the first drumbeat of the parade to the last kaboom of fireworks on July 4, you will enjoy yourself. Come and celebrate and become part of the history of the Rancho Cordova Fourth of July.

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NOTE: To contact Shelly Blanchard directly, use the form in the right column.


Parade Grand Marshall:

The Rancho Cordova Fourth of July has celebrated under many different themes over the years. Many local residents and organizations have been honored by being name "Grand Marshall" of the Fourth of July Parade.

In 2008, the honor of leading the Fourth of July parade as Grand Marshall, along with lighting the Cordova Community Christmas Tree, become an "Official Duty" of the Rancho Cordovan of the Year. Recent Grand Marshalls and parade themes of the past include: 
2015: Amy Hiramoto
2014: George Burnash
2013: Conrade Mayer
2012: Ross Johnson
2011: Neil Orchard
2010: "Star Spangled Weekend", Joe Gilbert
2009: "Land of Liberty", Josie Steelman
2008: "Heart of America, Rancho Cordova USA", John Barris, Educator and Advocate
2007: "America the Beautiful", Lee Frechette, Fourth of July volunteer
2006: "It's a Grand Old Flag", Shelly Blanchard, Editor of The Grapevine Independent
2005: "America, Come and Celebrate", Alan Wither. Principal, Community Activist
2004: "Home of the Brave",Conrade Mayer, Community Activist
2003: "Proud to be an American", Conrade Mayer, Community Activist
2002: "Let Freedom Ring",Neil Orchard, Administrator, Cordova Recreation and Park District
2001: "Unity in the Community", Capt. George Anderson. Sacramento Sheriff's Department
2000: "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow", Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce
1999: "Honor Our Heroes", The Grapevine Independent, Rancho Cordova newspaper
1998: "I Love (Heart) America", Dayo Hagan. Rancho Cordova Citizen
1997: "Shoot for the Stars", Don Nottoli, 5th District Supervisor
1996: "Go for the Gold", Glen Craig, Sacramento County Sheriff
1995: "Stars and Stripes Forever", Sen. Patrick Johnston. State Senator

Shelly Blanchard

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