Independence Day festivities in Park Ridge, Niles blast off tonight
Cathy Spadoni, acting deputy village clerk, is coordinator of the annual Niles July 4th Parade, which begins at Notre Dame College Prep and concludes at Grennan Heights Park. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 4, 2012 9:58AM
When Sam Astorino puts his patriotism on display, he does it in lights.
Anyone who has driven the stretch of Northwest Highway between Greenwood Avenue and Oakton Street in Park Ridge is likely familiar with Astorino’s creations: strands of Christmas lights and rebar forming an 8-foot tall American flag; and a sign with “USA” written in red, white and blue bulbs.
Astorino, 75, started building displays for his front yard at 828 N. Northwest Highway about eight years ago after a friend taught him the tricks of welding.
“The flag was the first thing I did,” Astorino said. “Being patriotic, I figured, let me do it.”
His illuminated displays, which also include an outline of train cars during the Christmas season, catch the eye of many drivers passing by, some of whom honk in support.
“I like to see veterans, when they go by, seeing someone who appreciates what they have done,” Astorino said.
With Independence Day here Astorino’s art takes on even more meaning. He’s now reworking his flag creation, making it a little smaller (at 200 pounds, it is now too heavy for him to easily move around) and making the colors appear brighter.
“I want people to be patriotic and remember all the troops,” Astorino said of his displays.
Astorino, of course, wasn’t the only one preparing for Fourth of July. The city of Park Ridge and village of Niles once again were readying big plans for the holiday, from traditional fireworks to a parade featuring 70 different groups and organizations.
The festivities kick off today (July 3) with Park Ridge’s annual fireworks display at Maine East High School, 2601 W. Dempster St. The popular pre-fourth bash, organized by the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District with municipal and corporate sponsorships, begins at 6:30 p.m. with music and interactive games for children, followed by an 8 p.m. performance of patriotic songs by the Brian Patti Big Band and fireworks about 9:15 p.m.
No grills or alcohol are allowed on the school grounds.
The fireworks draw crowds from several communities and, in recent years, attendance has skyrocketed.
“The whole event has grown tremendously as surrounding communities have chosen not to have fireworks,” said Kathie Hahn, Park District spokeswoman. “Our attendance has grown considerably in the last few years. Last year we estimated about 16,000 people.”
That’s nearly double the number of spectators who have flocked to the fields and football stadium in the past.
The major financial sponsors of this year’s fireworks are Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and Provena Health Resurrection Health Care. Residents using Park District programs have donated about $1,000, and the Park Ridge Indian Scouts are contributing $1,500, in addition to donations provided by Park Ridge residents.
The Park District has budgeted $18,000 for the fireworks display and donations are expected to offset that cost, Hahn said.
The following morning patriotism will be alive and well for the village of Niles’ Fourth of July Celebration and the Park Ridge Noon Kiwanis Club’s Kiddie Parade.
Former Niles trustee Tom Bondi will serve as the very first grand marshal of the village’s annual July 4th Parade, which begins at 9 a.m. at Notre Dame College Prep, 7655 W. Dempster St. The parade, which will feature about 70 organizations, performance groups and individuals, will travel south on Ozark Avenue to Main Street, east Main Street to Harlem Avenue, south on Harlem to Monroe Street and west to Grennan Heights Park at Monroe and Oketo.
Cathy Spadoni, acting deputy village clerk and parade coordinator, said this year’s parade will feature six drum and bugle corps, a live llama and camel, the Jesse White Tumblers and representatives of local schools, churches, scouting organizations, clubs and government offices.
This is the first time the parade will have a grand marshal, Spadoni said. Bondi was selected because he had been involved in organizing the parade for about 25 years.
“This is a way to honor him and thank him for his service,” Spadoni said.
Immediately following the parade the Niles Park District will host four hours of entertainment at Grennan Heights Park. The R-Gang Band, an R&B and pop-music cover band, will perform from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the main stage. Other activities will include a water play-area for children, inflatable attractions, games, pony rides, face-painting, a raffle and a tent of community information.
In Uptown Park Ridge the Kiwanis Club’s 56th Annual Kiddie Parade, open to any children from preschool to eighth grade, at 9:15 a.m. will circle Hodges Park, at Courtland and Vine avenues. Registration begins at 8:45 a.m.
Children and their parents are encouraged to decorate themselves, their bikes, wagons and pets, and participate in the parade. This year’s theme is “Support Our Troops,” with awards for best decorations.