Wilmette, Community

Independence Days: Wilmette embraces 3rd tradition and neighbors follow suit on 4th

Independence Day has long been the highlight holiday of the summer. Providing a much-needed midsummer respite for outdoor gathering and joy, it is a hit for all ages.

The holiday is so loved that some North Shore communities celebrate a day early, scheduling festivities on July 3 to open the door for a two-day extravaganza. For Wilmette residents, watching fireworks from or near Gillson Beach the eve of July 4 has become a cherished tradition.

Wilmette kicked off the third with the Yankee Doodle Dash, a fun run in the morning, but the real party started in the afternoon with the Star Spangled Splash at Centennial Pool.

Families and residents then gathered at Gillson Park, spreading out through the Wilmette gem to carry on the Wilmette tradition however they please. Some set up blankets and chairs on the beach for a daylong toast; others spread across the park’s vast greenery, taking up tarps with lounge chairs, food spreads and constant laughter.

Addison Yun, 16, of Wilmette, with a patriotic kite during the Wilmette festivities.

As the sun sets, many head down to the shoreline to view the fireworks explode and extend over Lake Michigan.

Keith Cyrus, of Wilmette, was on Gillson’s sailing beach with a large group of friends and family. He loves the third celebration.

“I love that it doesn’t compete with other July 4th parties,” Cyrus said. “There’s nothing not to love about it. I do everything on the third and nothing on the fourth.”

Down by the shoreline, a group of women took photos of the pink and yellow sunset prior to the fireworks. Friends from high school, they have made celebrating July 3 a cornerstone of their upbringing in Wilmette.

One of the women, Beth Beucher, grew up living on the beach. For her and the rest of her friends, the annual celebration is just a continuation of the traditions they’ve known and loved for so long.

Chuck and Lisa Rometty enjoy Gillson Park on the third of July.

“These are my beach buddies from high school,” Beucher said. “Just a few feet over here is just a continuation of what we used to do. I think the fun part of July 3 is that it’s a part of who we’ve been for so many years.”

The Wilmette celebration has become a tradition, but that is not its purpose. Wilmette, as well as Glencoe and other suburbs throughout Chicagoland, hold day-early Fourth of July fun to allow area emergency departments to cover all the activity. Evanston, Winnetka and Northfield host events on July 4.

Ellen Pritchard Dodge also grew up in Wilmette. She then moved out to California, but has since returned and enjoys the sense of community July 3 brings to the neighborhood. 

“This is how I grew up,” Pritchard Dodge said. “Anybody can come. You don’t have to have a lot of money, nobody is pretentious, there’s balls in the air, there’s chairs, people are saying hello. It feels like there’s not a lot of bad things happening in the world, right now, but there is, but here right now, it doesn’t.” 

Sheila O’Halloran Bower shared that the early celebration allows her friends and family to celebrate both days. They spend most of the third at Gillson Beach soaking up the sun until the fireworks. Then, on the fourth, they make their way to Winnetka for another fireworks show.

She said celebrating in Wilmette allows them to enjoy the neighboring communities on the fourth. 

The Jessie White Tumblers entertain a spirited crowd in the Wallace Bowl at Gillson Park.

The early celebration not only amplified the excitement around Independence Day but has also become a beloved tradition. One that is now catching on in other communities.

Glencoe’s annual Party in the Park kicked off on the evening of July 3. Lakefront Park was sprawling with families enjoying the games and activities. Boy Band Review gave a performance for the whole family to enjoy and nothing compares to the incredible fireworks display. 

But the fun didn’t end there. Another round of Independence Day traditions continued on July 4. 

In Glencoe and Winnetka, the day literally got off the races. Glencoe hosted the Fun Run in the downtown area, while the Firecracker 5K took over the Green Bay Trail in Winnetka.

Midday, Winnetka, Glencoe and Highland Park (Click to see The Record’s coverage of Highland Park’s Fourth) all hosted their Independence Day parades.

A costumed runner in Winnetka’s Firecracker 5K on Thursday, July 4.

Winnetka’s Village Green, Northfield’s Willow Park and Highland Park’s Sunset Woods Park all transformed into festivals by the afternoon.

At the Village Green, Winnetka held its annual flag-raising ceremony and family fun races and games. 

Similarly, in Northfield, bounce houses, slides and games took over Willow Park. But it was not all fun and games. Things got very serious for the high-stakes bike decorating contest and parade.

July 4 wrapped up in the North Shore at Winnetka’s Duke Child Fields. The Jesse White Tumblers also made an appearance following a performance from Shout Out. Families laid out blankets and caught a glimpse of the fireworks show to conclude another memorable Fourth of July.

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