The man who for years was granted the honor of setting off the finale for the Fourth of July fireworks display has been chosen to start the display this year.
The city of Steamboat Springs selected American Legion Post No. 44 and one of its longtime members, Dr. Vernon Price, to count down to and trigger this year's fireworks celebration. Price, who lives in Grand Junction, was a practicing physician in Steamboat for 30 years and an American Legion surgeon for 45 years.
Price was one of the American Legion members responsible for turning the fireworks show from an after-dinner afterthought into a big to-do, said Jim Stanko, district commander of the American Legion.
"(The community) was more interested in the late 1940s in the dance after the fireworks. Everyone wanted to dance," Stanko said. "It was Dr. Price and Don Brookshire who started really gathering the fireworks and really made it into a first-class fireworks display."
Because of his involvement in the early fireworks displays, Price was given the honor of lighting the fuse that set off the fireworks finale from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. The task involved setting off about 120 to 150 fireworks, Stanko said.
"I think it was a passion for him," he said.
Price served in World War II as an air bomber on a patrol squadron, according to an article published by the Steamboat Pilot in 1987. He began his practice in Steamboat in 1957, just hours after finishing his residency at Denver's Presbyterian Hospital. He was one of two or three doctors in town at that time.
He moved to Grand Junction about five years ago.
"He was one of the people who was just a real stalwart member of the American Legion," Stanko said. "For the last 30 to 40 years in Steamboat, he always was involved and got things done."
Vernon and the American Legion were the city's first recipients of the its Pride in Steamboat/Pride in America award.
For about a month, the city requested nominations from the community for an individual or group to count down to the start of the fireworks on the stage at Howelsen Hill and to trigger the fireworks.
The city received five nominations, and the July 4 Fireworks Committee unanimously selected the American Legion and Price.
Price will set off a group of small fireworks near the stage area, Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said.
"We are just really honored to be able to honor these folks in this way," DuBord said.
Stanko said the recognition of Price and the American Legion was fitting. For at least 40 years, the American Legion put on Steamboat's Fourth of July fireworks display.
The group handed the task to the city in the late 1990s because its numbers were dwindling, insurance costs were too high and the state required too much training, Stanko said.
"They sort of legislated us out of it," Stanko said. "And we kind of started running out of bodies. It was kind of a combination of things."
The city began contracting with a commercial fireworks company, and the event became larger.
"They beefed up the show even more. It was time to let them go ahead and do it," Stanko said. "It was a good thing for both groups."
Stanko recalled that in its prime, the American Legion's fireworks display would last for 20 to 30 minutes. It had five or six mortar crews on Howelsen Hill and would start laying out the fireworks at about 3 or 4 p.m., Stanko said.
"We dug pits to set the mortars up, then got all the fireworks up there and put them in safe locations, had them all fire proof," Stanko said. "Most of the time, we'd just be finishing up just about in time to start."
Along with Price and Stanko, American Legion members Lloyd Lockhart, Larry Monger and John Daughenbaugh will be on stage as part of the countdown celebration.
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