The Madras Sparklers started back in 1981, when Mike Ahern, Dan Phillps and Jodie Eagan worked together to organize and fund-raise for a community Fourth of July celebration in town. I remember watching the first Madras fireworks show from my backyard with a buddy, on Hillcrest Street. Not the "new, fancy" Hillcrest Street to the north, but the "old" one south of B Street. My friend and I had just graduated from high school a month prior. I don't want to say that was a long time ago, but we'll both be turning 60 next winter.
That's a lot of fireworks ago.
Those early Sparkle in Madras Independence Day celebrations had, I think, just about all of what today's event does — and more. Along with a run, breakfast, parade and food and live music that the modern Madras Fourth party at Sahalee Park entails, the Sparkle in Madras event back in the early days also included an at-times raucous beer garden and, maybe its signature, the always somewhat raucous bed races.
After many years of running the July Fourth event in Madras, the Sparkle in Madras crew wore out a bit. It was a big job, putting on the Fourth for a community, for already busy people. Fortunately, the Chamber of Commerce stepped up to take over the park celebration. Under the Chamber's leadership, the town's Fourth celebration has continued to prosper. No organization throws a parade in Madras like the Chamber.
A last vestige of the old Sparkle in Madras activity, though, is the fireworks show at night. In fact, the Sparkle in Madras organization continues to this day. However, it has long consisted of only one person, Mike Ahern (related to me in that he's also a son of my parents). Mike has long been the sole person behind raising funds for the Madras firework show, ordering the collection of fireworks and arranging for them to be shot off. He's gotten plenty of onsite and cleanup help over the years.
Since its inception, what has made the Madras fireworks show somewhat unique is that its funded by the community's residents. Quite often, community fireworks shows are funded by a government entity or a business through a sponsorship — a major thank-you from a business that includes a nice marketing tie-in and can be written off. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but there is something very special about a smalltown show that is funded by donation ranging from $5 or $20, all the way to larger donations by some very altruistic businesses. It's a show borne by many hands, and those hands are writing checks and placing them in envelopes.
And for a little town, Madras has come to throw a pretty big Fourth of July fireworks show. Thanks to larger donation pools, the purchases have moved up to about $14,000.
Mike's fundraising efforts now generally entail placing an information/donation advertisement in the Pioneer (which we substantially discount as a sponsor) and sending letters out to local businesses seeking donations. While there are new donations every year, an amazing element is how many people and businesses donate every year. Donations come in large and small, and all appreciated. Maybe 2022 can be the year you join the donation pool and help fund the fireworks show you and your community enjoy.
To make your donation, send a check to the Madras Sparklers at 1219 NE Upper Drive, Madras, OR 97741. If you haven't made a donation in a few years, or if you never have contributed, make it a good one.
Who knows? Maybe someday the bed races will triumphantly return. If they have an over 50 division, I might be game. Maybe.
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