Mostly positive with a few negatives, this year’s Hoover’s Hometown Days certainly may go down as one of the most memorable yet ironic.
Weather tops the list. After months without any rain of significance, crops suffering, Hoover Creek and Wapsinonac Creek stopped flowing, and yards turning brown, festival organizers had little choice but to break with a 19-year streak of fireworks to close out the event. J & M Displays was contacted a couple days before the deadline — there seemed to be no way we would see two inches of rain fall in the last week before Aug. 4. Sure enough, after the deadline passed, a glimmer of rain was predicted for that Saturday.
But as the day grew near, the storm became more likely, and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site kept an eye on it. Police Chief Mike Horihan said the storm’s strength grew to the point that the National Weather Service not only sent out its usual notifications, but also picked up the phone to call Cedar County to make sure they knew: This was big.
The first few drops fell about 10 minutes into the Celebration of Life Ceremony marking Hoover’s birth in West Branch, and a peal of thunder echoed in the distance during Tonic Sol-fa’s performance of the National Anthem. Hoover Association Executive Director Becky Allgood determined it was time to move the ceremony indoors. As the last few members of the crowd stepped inside the Hoover Library-Museum, the light rain seemed to be stopping. But it was more like the storm got its second wind, and it hit hard, slamming the area with 50-mile-per-hour winds and dropping almost two inches of rain in the next hour or so.
The ground was wet enough to hold the fireworks, but now it was too late to call them back. On Monday, the city council officially voted to amend the contract to reschedule the fireworks next year.
Yet, this year is the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Library-Museum. To make this year’s event that much more special, the Hoover Association brought in a laser light show to accompany the Cedar Rapids Municipal Band’s patriotic music. For fireworks, many families avoid the crowds by visiting friends with great views of the sky over the Hoover Complex. But the laser light show — augmented in case the fireworks were delayed — packed the east lawn of the Library-Museum, providing a cozy-but-not-cramped audience for a spectacular display. With images of Hoover, eagles, flags and more, along with Hoover quotes, on the large screen, more lasers danced overhead, bouncing off a smoky mist and magically glittering through and against the leaves of the trees surrounding the grounds.
That storm that drove the Celebration of Life indoors also meant the West Branch High School and Herbert Hoover High School of Glendale, Calif., had longer to wait before their performance. The HHHS marching band wore their full dress uniforms and some of the band members started getting a bit hot inside them. Director Martin Rhees knew the Midwest was experiencing high temperatures and a drought, so, trying to prepare the band, he had held practices prior to the trip outside in the heat, or inside with no air conditioning. If it had not been for that, perhaps many others would have been overcome by heat. Still, 10 fell ill and eight were taken to the hospital due to heat exhaustion that occurred indoors, all the while the storm cooled the outdoors to under 70 degrees.
(It is interesting to note that on the 30th anniversary of the Hoover Library-Museum, in 1992, several members of the Boy Scouts were overcome by heat during the dedication of the new addition.)
And yet every one of the students who had been hospitalized, many of whom were given doctor’s orders to rest, were determined to perform. They had worked so hard to raise the money to make the trip and endured 43 hours on a train to get here, so they did not want to disappoint their director or the other band members. The 3 p.m. show was pushed back to 4, then 4:30, then after 5 p.m. to give them sufficient time to eat and drink enough to regain their strength — and retake the stage (minus long sleeves and shakos). Part of the standing ovation was for their musical abilities, part was for their spirit. Their parents, chaperones and director ought to be very proud. (It should be noted that both bands — West Branch and Glendale — received a standing ovation in the auditorium, likely for very similar reasons.)
Again, back to the Celebration of Life ceremony after moving indoors. U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City), under the flickering lights caused by the storm, joked that it could be a sign that many people have a dim view of Congress. By this point in the program, all the minor speakers had their turn, but a few minutes in to Loebsack’s keynote address, the power went out completely. Rim shot, anyone?
But so much more went right than wrong. Friday night’s children’s games and races, food both days, gobs of booths (even though many left when the storm hit), Saturday’s inflatable rides and a magnificent parade — turning more into a show with music and dancing — still provided festival-goers with more to do than anyone could possibly cram into a day-and-a-half.
No doubt the storm ruined some best-laid plans, but not all. Festival organizers — from the Hoover Complex to the City of West Branch to Main Street West Branch — did another great job, as the 2012 Hoover’s Hometown Days was full of fun, inspiration, irony and memories that will last a lifetime.