Meridian celebrates the fourth
PATRIOTIC SPIRIT – Tripp Bond sits on the shoulders of his brother, Austin, as they celebrate Independence Day to the sound of the Meridian Symphony Orchestra at the Cellular South Fourth of July Pops Concert. Photo by Puala Merritt/The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
July 5, 2002
As the sun set Thursday, cars and trucks lined Highway 39 and a trickling of people gathered on the edges of Bonita Lakes for Meridian's biggest Independence Day celebration.
Belinda Vega, 30, a housewife from Newton, was particularly enthusiastic.
Vega and others gathered for the City of Meridian/Bonita Lakes Mall Old Time Fourth of July Celebration.
The annual event features fireworks, a flyover by Naval Air Station Meridian pilots and the Cellular South Fourth of July Pops concert featuring the Meridian Symphony Orchestra.
The Bonita Lakes concert and fireworks show capped a day of family picnics, barbecues and parties as Meridian, Lauderdale County and East Mississippi joined the rest of the country in celebrating the nation's 226th birthday.
One of the day's larger events was in Kemper County, where residents gathered in front of the Chamber of Commerce office, listened to Southern gospel music and heard public officials speak.
William Edward Conner Jr., 77, who served in a submarine during World War II, attended the event.
But, he said, his idea of celebrating the Fourth of July is spending it with two of his grandsons, Kyle, 16, and Adam, 18. Conner said that his grandsons "are my Fourth of July."
Kemper County leaders have constructed a brick walkway in front of the Chamber of Commerce to honor people who died fighting in war. Currently, 867 names can be found etched in brick.
But the day's biggest celebration was in Meridian at Bonita Lakes.
Toby Embrey, 40, of Hickory, works as a test technician at Raytheon in Forest. He has been retired from the Army since 1998, having worked for White House communications during Bill Clinton's term.
Embrey, who was joined by several family members, was excited about the show. "It just brings the whole community together. It's a nice little get-together," he said.
Embrey was armed with a set of binoculars. "These are my dad's," he said. "I just got them when I came to sit down."
Having been in the nation's capitol, he has seen some large fireworks shows "and I really like this one, even though it's smaller and more compact. The (concert) … is a real nice accomplishment, too."
John Harris, 58, of Lauderdale, has been retired from the Mississippi Air National Guard for three years, having served in vehicle and body maintenance.
Harris said that this year's Fourth of July has been a good one for him and his wife of 30 years, Georgia Mae, a housewife.
Harris said he and his wife ended up at Bonita Lakes after barbecuing and eating at home.
Others, including Johnnie R. Goodwin, 38, who drives a school bus and works as a janitor for the Enterprise School District, were quietly waiting for events to begin.
Belinda Vega, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, Christian, and a 15-month-old girl, Abigail, said the day has special meaning for her.
Her sister, Lenora Maestas, is a warrant officer in the Army serving in Afghanistan, and her brother, Cal Stephens, is an Air Force lieutenant in San Diego who just returned from Saudi Arabia.
Staff writer Chris Whitaker contributed to this report.