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COVID-19 takes away ‘Warren’s Mardi Gras’

The year was 1947 and a number of young men had just returned from World War II. Filled with pride and a new sense of patriotism they formed an organization later to become the Warren Jaycees. This group included Roy Schneck, Chuck Tranter and several other future community leaders and for their premier project they organized the first annual Fourth of July celebration.

In 1976, the year of the bicentennial, I joined the cause and served the chapter in every capacity I could, including chapter president, parade chairman for consecutive years and Fourth of July Chairman at least a couple of times.

For 44 years I have walked the parade route, selling tickets, greeting friends and reveling in the amazement of this unique Warren County experience.

Through the years I have witnessed a multitude of changes both in the Fourth and the community, low membership, bridge closings, loss of businesses and population, the death of community leaders and finally the demise of my beloved Jaycee chapter. Through it all the Fourth of July, “Warren’s Mardi Gras,” survived.

This year for the first time since 1947 the streets of Warren will be empty. There will be no oohs and aahs for the fireworks at Betts Park and plans for the annual trek back home, for many relocated around the country and globe, will be canceled.

To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. I have gone through every one of the stages of grief and I guess have finally arrived at acceptance. Not to say I’m happy about it.

You see the Fourth is part of who I am and part of the inner being of all my dearest friends. I guess my disappointment is magnified this year, because of the recent loss of my friend Rex Rossey and my friend and hero Wally Post, the savior of the Fourth of July, is not doing well. Due to the virus I can’t even see him.

This connection is not about a parade or fireworks or bands or picnics. It about a deeper sense of the same feelings that motivated those men in1947, young and invigorated, as our Founding Fathers were, by the notion of the one common thread that still holds us all together … FREEDOM.

How ironic is it that in the state of Pennsylvania, the birthplace of our nation, we are unable to celebrate this great gift of liberty.

Just a couple of notes:

1. As I write this there are three COVID-19 cases in Warren County and no deaths. From what I understand, one case is a patient at the Warren State Hospital with no contact or connection with the general Warren County populous and the other two cases are in Columbus with more of a connection to Erie then Warren County.

2. Several studies around the globe have shown that the COVID-19 virus does not transmit in the outdoors.

I believe the show could and should have gone on, especially after living through the greatest infringement on our individual rights since the Declaration of our Independence.

I certainly can’t fault my friends on the committee; their hands were tied. This responsibility lies firmly on the shoulders of Gov. Tom Wolf who instituted a “broad brush” overreaction to address this issue. Warren County is not Philadelphia.

I will leave you with a couple of quotes from Thomas Jefferson: “There is no justification for taking away individuals’ freedom in the guise of public safety. “

“When you abandon freedom to achieve security, you lose both and deserve neither.”

I hope we can all find a way to celebrate this Fourth in some memorable way, raising our flags and taking a few moments to remember the precious gift of our nation and a Warren County tradition that will live on . . . bigger and better than ever in 2021.

Don Nelson is a Warren County resident.

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