Exeter Lions carry on town tradition

Club will hold its 75th annual fireworks show, for free, at 9 p.m. on July 4 from Dobson Field

EXETER – Fireworks on the Fourth of July is an American tradition as old as the country itself. A celebratory explosion of national fanfare, Independence Day fireworks capture the color, charisma and scale of our dynamic democracy.

Yet this proud tradition popping with patriotism has fizzled in the last few years, as many communities can’t find the funds or the volunteers to continue to offer public fireworks displays. Exeter is one of the last fireworks shows left in Tulare County, the only one that happened last year and remains the only one that is free thanks to the dedicated community servants of the Exeter Lions Club.

July 4, 2021 will mark the 75th fireworks show provided by the club’s members. The small-town tradition started in 1946 when John Schultz obtained the first pyrotechnic license in California. Schultz, along with many other young men who returned to town after World War II, renewed their licenses, purchased the fireworks and lit the mortars for the show for 50 years. A mural honoring Schultz’s dedication to the fireworks show was painted on E Street in 1999.

Schultz oversaw the show until 1996, when he passed the torch to Ben Hagans and Chris Brewer, before passing away in 2001. Hagans and Brewer handled pyrotechnic responsibilities until 2002 when Paul Evans took over.

Just as freedom isn’t free, free fireworks show aren’t free either. As longtime Lions treasurer, Mickey Hirni said the fireworks show used to cost between $1,000 and $2,500 has now skyrocketed to more than $16,000 for the 30-minute extravaganza, and is climbing at a rate of a few hundred dollars per year.

That cost doesn’t even account for the training and certification courses for the firing crew as well as the head pyrotechnic. Hirni, who worked on the firing crew for 25 years, said anyone who lit even one mortar was required to get certified by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It takes a crew of about 15 dedicated volunteers to run the show and lit more than 650 mortars into the night sky. Many members have paid for the permitting out of their own pocket just to have the privilege of partaking in their town’s tradition.

Anyone interested in helping the club continue the tradition can make a donation by mailing a check to Exeter Lions Club, P.O. Box 405, Exeter, CA 93221 or they can transfer money from their phone on Venmo @Exeter-LionsClub.

This year’s fireworks show begins at approximately 9 p.m. at Dobson Field on Rocky Hill Drive in Exeter. The festivities will begin with a live-streamed preshow consisting of interviews, trivia, and your local Lions sharing some shenanigans.

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