A lively cast of thousands filled the area surrounding the George Bush Presidential Center on Thursday for a day and night of fellowship, food and fireworks as part of the 59th Annual “I Love America!” Fourth of July Celebration.  

Wearing an assortment of America-themed garb — from Uncle Sam hats and American-flag board shorts to several replica jerseys of athletes on the U.S. women’s soccer team — an ever-increasing number of area residents and those from beyond the Brazos Valley gathered to celebrate 243 years since a group of men from Georgia to New Hampshire gathered in Philadelphia and declared independence from Great Britain in 1776.

Families, couples and groups of friends enjoyed local food trucks, booths hosted by area organizations and, in the evening, live music from the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra and a fireworks display lasting approximately 20 minutes.

The College Station Noon Lions Club organized the event with help from a number of sponsors, including the cities of Bryan and College Station and Commerce National Bank.

Diane Holt, event lead organizer and College Station Noon Lions Club president, said Thursday afternoon that planning the event required an “all hands on deck” attitude for the group’s 210 members.

“The fact that we’re doing this here at the Bush Library speaks volumes to our patriotism,” Holt said. “I think it’s a wonderful venue, because people have a chance not only to see the fireworks, but also to see the library.”

Well over 4,000 people took advantage of free admission to the Bush Library and Museum, according to Warren Finch, the museum’s director.

Inside the museum, children craned their necks to see inside a presidential limousine, and people of all ages adopted poses behind a desk in the facility’s Oval Office replica.

Just after taking an Oval Office picture with her mother, Ketta, Abilene resident and high school student Brooke Garduno said she appreciated the opportunity to learn more about George and Barbara Bush. Brooke did a tour of the Bushes’ historic Midland house when she was younger, she said, and also did a school project on their lives. Garduno said she and her mom planned to do a visit to the Texas A&M campus Friday.

“She’s considering becoming a future Aggie,” Ketta Garduno said of her daughter. “I visited the museum shortly after it opened, and so I wanted to help her to experience what I had experienced.”

The Bush Library and Museum has been the location for the Independence Day event since it opened in 1997.

Outside the library’s doors, representatives from a plethora of area organizations set up tented booths in which they engaged with interested patrons and passersby. Among them were representatives from Voices for Children, including executive director A.J. Renold.

Renold said the organization, which pairs Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers with children in the area foster system, is working to engage more with military veterans and has another training of CASA volunteers in September. She described Independence Day as a day to lift up the importance of service, which she said can take myriad forms.

“It’s fulfilling to serve other people, and there are all kinds of ways to serve your country,” Renold said. “It’s important for people to serve their country, and serving their community is a way to do it.” 

Behind the Voices for Children booth were several tables full of people enjoying food and snacks from local food vendors. Good Bull BBQ, Kona Ice and Crafty Pig were among the several food truck options at the event, situated in the Bush Library’s parking lot. 

Jalyn Golden, an area resident who just completed graduate studies in biomedical sciences at Texas A&M, enjoyed corn, shrimp and crab from Krab Kingz with her boyfriend, Eric M. Washington.

Golden said that she routinely partakes in commemorations for both the Fourth of July and Juneteenth. Golden said she loves fireworks, and, noting the impacts that firework explosion noises can have on people with PTSD and on pets, said she attends the Bush Library celebration in part due to its relative distance from most area neighborhoods.

Golden, noting the thousands of migrant children and families enduring reportedly harsh conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, said, “I always enjoy the fireworks, but I also need to keep in mind what the country is going through at the moment.

“I would define patriotism as being proud of your national origin, while at the same time being aware of what’s going on in the current moment and what’s happened in the past,” Golden said.

Numerous other events marked Independence Day in the Brazos Valley. Area cyclist Kathy Langlotz was part of a 22-person special holiday ride Thursday hosted by the Southenders, a local cycling group that meets to ride at Prosperity Bank off Texas 6 at 7:30 a.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as on holidays. Langlotz said that most of the group rode between 30 and 45 miles Thursday morning.

“We had a group of overachievers who did a 100-mile ride and went to — wait for it — Independence,” Langlotz said.

Langlotz described the area cycling community as “life-giving,” and said it was “a community where we take care of each other.” She said that the group, which took photos holding American flags and posted them on social media, includes people of diverse ages and political beliefs.

“There is something about this day where we make a decision to put away the things that separate us from each other, and to embrace the best part of what our country is and how we got here,” Langlotz said of the Fourth of July.

In College Station’s Foxfire neighborhood, more than 100 people gathered Thursday morning for the 12th annual Foxfire Homeowners Association Parade.

Longtime organizer and event founder Blanche Brick said the gathering included a mixture of regulars and new attendees. Brick said the group parades around the Foxfire triangle three times to signify life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“The parade is an opportunity for children to participate in the Fourth of July and to help them see what it’s all about,” Brick said. “We love the fact that the College Station police and fire departments come out and bring cars and a truck for the kids to climb in and out of. 

“Our democratic system of government works better when we all participate, and similarly, our parade is better when lots of different people show up,” Brick said.

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