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Patriotism reigns over Culpeper's July Fourth celebration
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Patriotism reigns over Culpeper's July Fourth celebration

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From near dawn to past dusk Sunday, Culpeper celebrated Independence Day by combining song, sand art, speechmaking, American history, antique cars and World War II aircraft, as only this community could.

A patriotic occasion from the word go, it honored the founding generation’s ideals, remembered those who’ve fought for freedom and doffed its cap to the men and women who now try to protect their fellow Americans.

Hundreds of people turned out for the day’s best-attended events, a Patriotic Demonstration in the town of Culpeper’s Yowell Meadow Park and the Commemorative Air Force’s Warbird Showcase at Culpeper Regional Airport.

“This Fourth of July, I hope we can all remind ourselves of the heroes found right here in the commonwealth—whether among our veterans, among our first responders and law enforcement, or among those who have worked around the clock on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, keeping our neighbors healthy and safe,” Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger told attendees and participants in the Patriotic Demonstration.

July Fourth’s public activities began at 7:30 a.m. at Culpeper Baptist Church, where runners started and ended the Culpeper Freedom 5K, which looped around Yowell Meadow Park.

For most of the day, the Commemorative Air Force’s Culpeper-based Capital Wing hosted the second day of its Warbird Showcase at the airport, featuring static displays of vintage aircraft and vehicles as well as rides in World War II planes of all kinds.

Shortly after noon, three Stearman biplanes, a big TBM Avenger torpedo bomber and a diminutive L-5 Sentinel took off for a formation flyover of the event at the Culpeper Minute Men monument in Yowell Meadow Park.

Throughout the afternoon, hundreds enjoyed automotive excellence at the Freedom Car & Truck Show in the Madison Road parking lot outside Culpeper United Methodist Church. As a benefit for CARS (Christ-Centered Addiction Restoration Services), the event brought together car buffs from across the area.

Aficionados admired classic Detroit beauties, swapped restoration know-how, competed for prizes, and enjoyed the sounds of the Piedmont Community Band and Blue Ridge Barbershoppers Quartet.

In the afternoon at its Main Street headquarters, the Culpeper County Republican Committee welcomed visitors with barbecue, beer and mechanical-bull rides.

A patriotic concert with the Seipp-Sheets Duo Sunday at Culpeper Baptist Church delighted attendees, followed by socializing and ice cream in the courtyard.

And to cap a fine day, at 9:20 p.m., fireworks started shooting into the sky over the town’s Rockwater Park.

Yowell Meadow Park was the focus of most of the day’s activities, with children’s activities, vendors, music by Mo Safren, the 5k and dignitaries’ speechifying drawing people’s attention.

Shortly before 1 p.m., folks gathered beneath trees and tents beside the Culpeper Minute Men monument to pay tribute to some of the local patriots who fought during the Revolutionary War.

Local native Charles Jameson, president of the Sons of the American Revolution’s Culpeper Minute Men Chapter, welcomed people and urged them to keep in mind the holiday’s serious if celebratory purpose.

“We must remember the people—the very courageous men and women who took seriously the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence,” Jameson said. “Let’s begin with the stories of these brave men whose courage in the face of danger can still inspire us today.”

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Jameson introduced the speakers, who included Culpeper Mayor Mike Olinger and Culpeper County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal, and the keynoter, Rep. Spanberger, D-7th.

“We have a responsibility to honor our nation’s values and our bedrock principles,” Spanberger said. “And we are encouraged to remind ourselves of the heroes of the past and the heroes among us today—those who keep the traditions of our democratic republic alive.”

The two-term 7th District lawmaker spoke of the founders’ spirit 245 years ago, when farmers, planters, lawyers and would-be philosophers signed a piece of parchment that pledged their “lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” in pursuit of independence from Great Britain.

They hoped their cause would endure, she said. In Culpeper, Sunday’s reading of the Declaration of Independence demonstrated that their hope did prevail.

“Even in moments of division in our communities, hyper-partisanship in our politics, and doubts about our future and our children’s future—we should hold fast to the idea that there are goals and hopes that can bring us together,” Spanberger said. “During the last year and a half, our neighbors and communities have demonstrated that we can share a common purpose and a common home—even in the face of major challenges.”

The Democratic legislator noted Virginians’ proud tradition of service to the country, a tradition that predated the congress in Philadelphia that crafted the Declaration. That history is made clear by considering where Sunday’s ceremony took place, where the Culpeper Minute Men organized and trained in 1775.

Olinger presented the town’s annual Community Leadership Award to the Rev. Erick Kalenga, pastor of His Village Baptist Church, for his volunteerism, soccer coaching and efforts at building bridges among local residents.

Deal expressed gratitude to local residents who faced adversity but stepped up and made a difference during the novel-coronavirus pandemic, especially public safety and law enforcement officials, who he said “went beyond the call of duty” during the COVID-19 crisis. Placards beside his speaker’s podium identified most of those who risked their lives to protect others during the pandemic.

After the main speakers, others paid tribute to area residents who fought during the American Revolution. Rozanne Edrington, Rebecca Wichern and Sally Humphries, members of the Culpeper Minute Men Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, briefly sketched the lives of local residents who fought for the new nation or influenced its founding era, such as Fauquier County native John Marshall.

Steve Hawkins, portraying George Washington, spoke about events leading up to the Second Continental Congress’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

He recited Virginia patriot Patrick Henry’s fiery “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, which Henry delivered on March 23, 1775, in St. John’s Church in Richmond, still standing today. Culpeper-area residents soon took Henry up on his challenge, forming the militia group that became the Culpeper Minute Men. They met under a big oak tree in a large field that today is part of Yowell Meadow Park.

Tom Hamill, past president of the SAR’s Culpeper Minute Men Chapter, read the entire Declaration of Independence, standing beside the town’s new Charters of Freedom monument—which includes the text of that document.

Others came to Yowell to play with their children or shop for crafts among the vendors assembled there.

Culpeper resident Cameron Smith brought his kids to Yowell, and said they love attending the community’s July Fourth celebration.

“My favorite thing about Culpeper are the parks,” he said. “We really like the Splash Pad and skateboard park, and the workout features in the parks.”

Stanardsville resident Dumisile Martin, a native of South Africa, sold fair-trade African crafts—baskets and purses, hand fans from Ghana, bowls, cups from South Africa, jewelry from Kenya, decorative motorcycles from Zimbabwe—at a booth in the park.

She and her husband are from South Africa. He was in America’s Foreign Service; she found a job at the U.S. Embassy.

“We were always fascinated with Thomas Jefferson,” Martin said. “So when things got difficult there in Africa, we thought of him and decided to come here. And we’ve been very happy here.”

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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