100 years of Pease fireworks recognized Saturday

BOOM!

And with that, the Fourth of July celebration in Pease started.

As early as June 1899, one could tell that Fourth of July was nearing in Pease by the way the young boys were behaving.

The “Pease: 100 Years” history book recounts how one had to watch those Pease boys close when Independence Day was approaching.

By 1913, at the crack of dawn at about 5 a.m., a loud blast of dynamite would jolt people from their beds to get the Fourth of July celebration underway. There was an annual picnic in a maple grove on the West Branch of the Rum River, a patriotic program of speaking and singing, and a good spirited ball game between the Peasites.

In 1915, fireworks were added to the Fourth of July celebration. They were sponsored by the Pease businessmen and they were lit off by Dick Baas and George Alderink, according to Ray Rensenbrink, a current member of the Pease fireworks committee.

Come Saturday, July 4, Pease will celebrate the 100th anniversary of hosting fireworks displays with what committee member Curt Nobel says will be the largest fireworks display in Pease’s long history.

The Times recently sat down with committee members Ray Rensenbrink, Jim Kraght, Merlin Koppendrayer, Curt Nobel, as well as Lawrence Kiel and Vernon Nobel. Vernon Nobel has been involved with shooting off the fireworks since 1956. The dynamite once exploded in the Pease area was bought by Kiel when he owned the hardware store in town. Committee member Curt Bekius was unable to attend the gathering.

“Pease’s Fourth of July begins with a loud blast of dynamite around 5 a.m., waking everyone up to this special day,” the Pease history book states. In 1940, seven young men (Dewey Moorlag, Don Pluimer, Henry Vedders, John Moes, Harold Pluimer, Pete Kiel and Enno Bouma) took the wake-up call a step further when they lit a 20-minute fuse attached to 15 sticks of dynamite a half mile north of Pease on the railroad tracks for that year’s blast, the committee members recalled with a laugh.

Today it’s the Pease Christian Reformed Church and not area businessmen who underwrite the fireworks show. The cost of the 100th anniversary display will reach about $7,500, Rensenbrink said. Donations the townships of Greenbush, Milo, Borgholm, Bogus Brook, Milaca and Hayland help cover about a third of the cost, while individual donations will also help defray costs, Rensenbrink said.

The Pease fireworks celebration is 100 percent volunteer driven.

“From fundraising to blowing them off, it’s been that way since day one,” Rensenbrink said.

Rensenbrink recalls growing up in Pease.

“Fourth of July was the highlight of the year. It was a special day,” he said.

Rensenbrink recalls his dad being one who blew off dynamite on a large rock.

He started working with the fireworks in 1988.

“Lawrence talked me into it,” he said, pointing at Lawrence Kiel.

Today Rensenbrink is a state-licensed pyrotechnic who is one of the local men charged with shooting off the fireworks.

Curt Nobel is viewed as the group’s choreographer. He spends hours unloading boxes of fireworks and lining them up for the Fourth of July shoot.

Nobel is especially looking forward to this year’s ground show.

“We’re going from 12 to 22 boxes, and the aerial show, we have a number of bombs included,” he said.

Lawrence Kiel, who served as Pease mayor for 24 years, shot off the fireworks with Les Kiel for years. He took over for Baas, who was involved well into his 70s, committee members said.

“I started in 1952,” Kiel recalled. “I did it 30-35 years – the first time, I remember, I was 18.”

In those days, he ordered the fireworks himself through his hardware store.

“We shot the fireworks from where the canteen is today. Later on we moved them to the north side because it got too dangerous,” he recalled.

Committee members all shared fond memories of that canteen, where Lawrence Kiel said they could get pop and ice cream for a nickel. John Baas was there selling tickets for the festivities. In addition to ice cream, one could buy fireworks and sparklers at the canteen, Kiel added.

Then men recalled one year when a rocket misfired, hit the window of a van, broke the glass and landed inside of the vehicle.

“It was sitting on the gray carpet and the fuse was at our feet,” one of then men recalled. One of them quickly put the rocket in a container of water before it exploded and took them and the van with them.

Jim Kragt remembers as a kid looking forward to the fireworks.

“I remember being around 8 years old. The fireworks were the highlight of the day.”

His favorite part of the fireworks is the lighting of an American flag.

“We conclude with the flag. When you see the flag, you know it’s over,” Kragt said.

Merlin Koppendrayer was recruited for the ground display years ago by Rensenbrink.

“I’m more or less the gopher,” he confessed.

Koppendrayer comes from a family of 10 children, and like other members of the committee, Fourth of July was a big deal at the Koppendrayer house.

“When the Fourth of July was over, I thought summer was over,” said Koppendrayer, who succeeded Kiel as mayor and served for 12 years.

This will be the 59th year that Vernon Nobel has been firing off fireworks. He did it first in 1956.

Nobel doesn’t see the fireworks operation as fun and games.

“This is a very, very serious operation,” Nobel said on a number of occasions. This year there are what committee members call “some young whippersnappers” who are getting involved and will be another generation of Peasites that keep a long-standing tradition going. One segment of the fireworks will be electronically fired in a nod to the future. One segment will also be choreographed to music, Rensenbrink said.

Come Saturday, Pease will kick off the 2015 Fourth of July celebration with a patriotic program featuring Capt. Amber Manke. It’s billed as a program for all ages and takes place at 5 p.m. at the church, Rensenbrink said. At 6 p.m. the activity moves to the park where there will be traditional family fun – and the canteen will be open with pies, hotdogs, barbecues and treats for sale. The annual softball game begins at 8:30.

And then when the sun sets into the western sky, it will be time for the 100th shooting of the Pease fireworks display.

It will be one for the ages. Pease fireworks committee members guarantee it.