MONTECITO’S HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO AMERICA

For a consecutive decade the Montecito Village Fourth has been one of this town’s purest holiday celebrations, free of the politicizing and ideological punctuating that tend to mark so much of this country’s organized entertainment. Village Fourth founder and organizer Diane Pannkuk says she’s warded off attempts to introduce political themes, claiming she’s content just wishing “Happy Birthday” to America.

“We’re not trying to push anything,” Pannkuk says. “It’s a feel-good community event with no agenda.”

Instead, the Montecito Association-sponsored Village Fourth has been the ultimate embodiment of community involvement. About 2,000-strong come in full red, white and blue regalia every year to volunteer, donate and participate. Anyone from the Montecito Sanitary District to the local chapter of Boy Scouts gets entangled in the fun. The result is a parade with nearly 40 entries, a gaggle of flag-waving patriots and more food than could fit in the Coral Casino pool.

“To me, it’s amazing to see how the community’s embraced this,” Pannkuk says. “When I see something like that, it makes the whole thing worth it to me.”

The event gets going bright and early, on July 4 of course, at 7:30 am. The Fire District hosts a pancake breakfast at its San Ysidro Road station. The Montecito Association president – this year it’s Bob Collector – hosts a round-table sit-down with past Village Fourth grand marshals. Honorees have included comedian Jonathan Winters and former First District Supervisor Naomi Schwartz.

This year’s grand marshal is Montecito Fire Chief Ron McClain, who retires in October after 33 years serving the force. Pannkuk says she selected McClain for his “always accommodating can-do attitude.” Praising the Chief as a “delight to work with,” Pannkuk adds, “what nobody understands is how much the Montecito Fire Department fights for Montecito.”

Parade preparations begin at 10:30 am and by 11:15 San Ysidro is blocked off from East Valley Road to Santa Rosa Lane. Meanwhile, volunteers hand out 2,000 American flags. Parade master Dana Newquist has 36 parade entries so far and you can bet you’ll see a fire engine, kids, dogs, antique cars, the Grand Marshal Jeep (which McClain drives every year) and other entries of the usual, and unusual, variety.

The parade turns left from San Ysidro to Santa Rosa Lane, the stopping point at Lower Manning Park, where the grassy enclave erupts into an enormous picnic. The Dixieland band assumes the stage and Santa Barbara Barbeque hands out hamburgers, hot dogs and other grilled delights. The Boy Scouts run the snow cones booth and the folks from the Friendship Center dole out cotton candy.

“The idea of this is it’s old-fashioned,” Pannkuk says. “I try to provide everything in the park for free so people don’t have to go anywhere.’

The setting offers a litany of games for children: bouncers, fishing and the Montecito Cup, which pits Montecito Union School versus Cold Spring School students. The winners of the tug of war, sock race and pie eating contest are bestowed the “Three-foot Trophy.” Montecito Union has held court for three consecutive years (its more than two-fold school enrollment advantage factors into its dominance).

Pannkuk says the event couldn’t happen without people volunteering and she is desperate for volunteers in several areas, especially in the morning at 8:30 am setting up booths, from noon to 2:30 pm running booths and after 2:30 for clean-up. She’s offering community service hours to high school kids for manning the fishing booth. (If you’re interested call Pannkuk at 969-9005.)

Otherwise, Pannkuk seems to have everything taken care of. Well, except for one thing – who’s gonna drive the Grand Marshal Jeep?