Delayed 4th of July celebration in Bonnots Mill raises funds for Wounded Warrior Project

By Edward Gehlert, Staff Writer
Posted 9/9/21

A much anticipated Bonnots Mill annual tradition was finally held Sunday after a two-month delay caused by adverse weather conditions. What began 23 years ago as a simple barbecue and small fireworks …

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Delayed 4th of July celebration in Bonnots Mill raises funds for Wounded Warrior Project

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A much anticipated Bonnots Mill annual tradition was finally held Sunday after a two-month delay caused by adverse weather conditions. What began 23 years ago as a simple barbecue and small fireworks show has grown into a community event that welcomes hundreds of guests with food, music, and of course, its signature fireworks display.

Of special interest each year is the recognition of a local veteran, and donated items raffled off with all proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Project. On top of the raffle, cash donations are also made toward the contribution to the organization.

Organizer Rick Niewald holds a special ceremony for one local veteran in which they are thanked for their service and given a special and unique plaque, which is handmade by veteran Mark Schaefer, who considers it an honor and privilege to shine a light on a fellow veteran’s service. This year, that honor was given to Curt Bittle.

“The one I made for Curt took about 30 hours to make,” said Schaefer. “I donate my time and materials to make them. It’s the least I can do.”

Schaefer has made plaques for the last seven years and plans on continuing to do it for the foreseeable future.

Bittle and his wife, Laura, accepted the plaque before the fireworks display. Bittle said it was an honor to serve his country and he would fight again if his nation needed him.

When the event began, Niewald said $20 or $25 was spent on fireworks. “After we had set them off we heard clapping from across the river,” he said. “I said it looks like we’ll have to do this again next year.”

Not only did Niewald have a barbecue and some fireworks the following year, but he has been doing it every year since and it has become something the community looks forward to each year. 

Organizing an event of this size requires help. Niewald’s longtime friend Bill Rothove has been a part of it since the beginning.

“When my kids were little we came down here to the gravel bar to set off fireworks,” said Rothove. “Somebody across the river whooped and hollered when we shot one-off. So Rick said let’s keep doing this. The following year we spent $150 to $200 on fireworks. The next year a little bit more and it just kept on progressing. We have about an hour show here tonight.”

Niewald said that as more people began joining the festivities, they started bringing side dishes and desserts to share with each other. These people also started inviting their friends and families and each year it got bigger and bigger.

“This year between what we spent and what was donated to us I think we have around $4,000 in fireworks we are going to set off,” said Niewald. “We also cook a lot more food than what we used to. This is family-friendly. We like to see people out here celebrating with their families.”

Niewald also uses the event to honor veterans for their service. 

Rothove said that everyone is welcome to attend their event and encourages people to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project while they are there.

Premiere Sound owner Joe Horan volunteers his DJ services for the event and has done so the past few years. Horan said he is proud to be a part of something that is so loved in the community and that acknowledges the sacrifice veterans have made for our country.

“There’s no way we can thank them enough,” said Horan. 

The multiple cancellations this year caused some to worry it may cause a drop in attendance, but when the fireworks started there were still more than 60 people enjoying the show. 

The most recent delay occurred on Sept. 4 when Niewald had to once again announce a cancellation due to rain. 

“That was the third time we had to reschedule,” said Niewald. “Luckily this is a holiday weekend so we just had to move it to the day after.”

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