by Stacy Wiedmaier
Thousands of area residents braved the icy temperatures to view a 20-minute fireworks show at Parkville’s Christmas on the River celebration, with many calling it the longest and best fireworks show they have seen at the annual event.
Set to holiday music, the colorful display was the second largest attraction of the evening. The Park Hill School District’s 1,000 voice choir was another huge draw. The children sang multiple tunes as their family and friends watched with pride, most holding a video camera.
“This is my first time here to see my granddaughter sing,” said Kansas City resident Jo Page. “My favorite part was of course the choir, but my granddaughter was just awe struck when the fireworks began. We have never seen anything like it. I look forward to coming again next year.”
One new attraction this year included hot air balloons whose flames lit the dark sky and drew crowds although they remained on the ground. Sitting in English Landing Park, many visitors said they were curious to see one up close. Also new this year were more vendors along the end of Main Street. Krispy Kreme donated 70 dozen free doughnuts for the festivities and patrons could purchase everything from pizza and hot cider, to kettle corn and polish sausages.
The downtown lighting ceremony was emceed by Parkville celebrity Bill Grigsby who provided running commentary on everything from thanking the armed forces for serving as they displayed the flag, to singing along with the children of all ages onstage. Local Kansas City singers Rudy Amato and Katherine Vivano sang Christmas carols before and after the children’s performances.
The theme of this year’s event, the 15th annual, was “A Family Celebration.” Event co-chair and Parkville businessman Tom Hutsler sported a festive Santa cap as he described the crowds as “a huge turnout.”
“This is one of our biggest events of the year and we couldn’t do it without so many volunteers,” he said. “The turnout is always hard to count, but we estimate it’s near 10,000.”
Although the majority of those attending were local residents, several traveled far and wide to take part in this year’s celebration. One group from Nebraska said they look forward to making the trip every year.
“We drive three hours to get here and have been coming as a group for the last 10 years,” said Fremont, Neb. native Cheryl Foley. “We love seeing the fireworks display and the people are so welcoming and awesome. We’ll be in the area for the next four days.”
Her husband, Jim Foley said the two couples “wouldn’t miss it for the world,” and initially heard of the event years ago while reading a travel magazine about things to do in the area. Their friends, Dennis and Marilyn Krumel, echoed their sentiment that the, “good, small town hospitality was unbeatable.”
After the fireworks show concluded and crowds were headed either to their car or the Mayor's Christmas Party in the Olde Mill, several small brush fires began in the park closer to the rivers edge than the crowds. As few took notice, the Southern Platte Fire Protection District quickly extinguished the flames. Division chief John Callahan was present who said the trucks and firefighters are always on hand for these type of events for precautionary measures.
“That has never happened in the past, but there’s always the possibility especially during dry conditions,” Callahan said. “It was no big deal and real tiny, probably about a 10 by 10 area. We put it out quickly and safely.”
The Mayor's Christmas Party was held for visitors to warm up and enjoy a free dinner for the third year in a row. Several activities for children were offered by local businesses, including face painting, crafts and a popular balloon artist who drew the longest line.
“Each year this party has grown into something greater,” said Parkville mayor Kathy Dusenbery. “Christmas on the River is what Parkville is all about. We’re creating hometown memories that children will remember for the rest of their lives.”