Celebration with a bang

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 6, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson and RYAN ARENA

RESERVE – St. John the Baptist Parish celebrated Independence Day and honored those who have fought for our freedom in recent years with its eighth annual Veterans Luncheon at the National Guard Readiness Center in Reserve on Wednesday.
The luncheon was hosted by Parish President Natalie Robottom and was well-attended by local veterans and their families. Public officials such as St. John Parish Council members Michael Wright, Cheryl Millet and Marvin Perrilloux; the new superintendent of St. John Public School District, Kevin R. George; and state Reps. Randal L. Gaines and Gregory A. Miller. Celebration Church’s Pastor Checkerz Williams provided a prayer during the luncheon.
The annual event paid homage to deceased veterans and service members with a video tribute. Patriotic artwork created by summer campers was used as placemats for the veterans, and was given a keepsake for those in attendance. Food was served by members of the Young Marines and the public officials in attendance.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Ballard, commander of the 61st Troop Command and the Louisiana CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, was the keynote speaker at the program. Ballard was the lead commander of the Louisiana National Guard in St. John Parish during Hurricane Isaac, performing rescue, security and engineering missions.
Ballard shared his unique outlook on being a veteran.
“I find myself reflecting more on my unit’s accomplishments at home during times where we were supporting emergency operations right here in Louisiana. As we celebrate our nation’s independence tomorrow, remembering the members and their families is something that should be on every citizen’s mind. To all the veterans that are in attendance I salute you and our nation salutes you for all that you have sacrificed for this country,” he said.
Later that evening, residents of St. John Parish convened in front of St. Peter’s Catholic Church and the Edgard Courthouse to celebrate with one another on a night capped by a spectacular fireworks show.
More than 1,000 people arrived to be part of the 13th annual Independence Day Celebration Along the River, enjoying food, drink and music, as well as each other’s company.
“It’s a chance to mingle with everybody,” said Reserve resident E.J. Guidry. “It’s always a good time and a great show.”
The fireworks proved once again the night’s main event. Promptly at 9 p.m., both sides of the river saw the night sky light up through an impressive display timed to patriotic music.
“A concerted effort was made to involve more veterans and patriotic activities in the program, and technological advances allowed for an improved production,” said Parish President Natalie Robottom.
The event was filmed on the east and west banks of the parish and broadcast on the government access channel.
“It’s great,” said Reserve resident Leighton Allen. “I come up here every year to watch the show. Then I’ll go home and watch it again on the parish channel. It was every bit as good as ever.”
The St. John Parish Young Marines led the opening ceremony on the east bank, followed by the St. Peter School cheerleaders and a history-themed trivia game for children in attendance. 
Local “American Idol” contestant Breanna Steer performed a heartfelt rendition of “God Bless America,” while Sarah Grosse and Rance Scott shared their musical talents later that evening. 
In Edgard, St. John the Baptist Parish Catholic Church held its annual fundraiser featuring jambalaya, chicken drumettes and a variety of sweets.  Attendees on the west bank were serenaded by local DJ Karen Borne.
This was the first year festivities on the west bank were televised and broadcast on the government access channel.
“The Independence Day celebrations are about more than good food and music,” said District 1 Councilman Art Smith. “It’s about the camaraderie between residents and honoring those who have fought and continue to fight to keep us free.”