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Event organizers relying on personal responsibility while preparing to return

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Reopening Rockford

(WREX) — Summer is right around the corner and with it returns the festival season.

The time of year where outdoor concerts are in full tune, holiday parades fill the streets and county fairs welcome kids and adults alike.

Excitement for these events is certainly building more than usual given the amount of cancellations over the last year.

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For one long standing Rockford event, the 4th of July Celebration, organizers Tom Luepkes and Ted O'Donnell have been preparing for this year's event since last year's event was cancelled.

"As early as January we started putting things together in hopes we were going to be able to make it happen this year," Luepkes said.

This year's celebration is being planned with the pandemic in mind.

The parade route has been changed to be more streamlined, music spots will be stationed throughout downtown to encourage people spacing out and the fireworks show will be shot near 800 feet, a record high for the event.

"We looked at a lot of things to help people come out and feel safe and comfortable," O'Donnell said.

Luepkes and O'Donnell have close to 30 years combined coordinating the 4th of July celebration.

It's a tradition running deep in their roots being the grandson and nephew respectively of Rockford's Mr. 4th of July Joe Marino.

"He was always big on family and he was always big on community. He passed that down to us," Luepkes said.

While preparations continue in Rockford, the leaders of the Boone County Fair are hard at work as well to bring people back to the fairgrounds.

Back in 2019, more than 220,00 people filled the grounds for the fair and organizers are ready to welcome everyone back as normal, barring a clear theme of health and safety.

"There's plenty of grounds out there. We have 183 acres people can scatter out in so social distancing shouldn't be big problem," Boone County Fair president Lyle Lee said.

Shipments of sanitizers have come by the thousands to Boone County to enhance disinfecting efforts along with the emphasis on masks and staying spaced out.

"We hope everyone stays safe. That's our goal. We don't want anyone getting sick," Boone County Fair Vice President Jack Ratcliffe said.

Since 1963, people have gathered at the Boone County Fairgrounds every year.

This tradition has attracted more than just guests in the Stateline, people all over the country flock to the event each August.

People use the week of the fair as their vacations and reunions," Lee said.

"I can't get into just how happy we are to be able to do this again."

Prior to Illinois entering the Bridge Phase, many event planners were proceeding with caution with their preparations.

That was the case for the organizers of Old Settlers Days.

The carnival and concert event is set to return as well and luckily it will be looking exactly how 2020 was meant to look.

"Things are working out for us. Our entertainment that we booked last year are staying with us this year," Old Settlers Days representative Carol Wright said.

"We are very, very excited to be back this year!"

The willingness of last year's artists to return personifies the them of community all of these events are built on.

Old Settlers Days isn't just a weekend of music and entertainment, it's also the main fundraiser for the Rockton Lions Club.

The Boone County Fair holds events on the fairgrounds all season long leading up to the fair itself which connects many vendors in the Stateline.

Even the 4th of July Committee is purely volunteer driven, with $85,000 on average raised each year for the celebration.

All of these are events by the community for the community in the purest way.

That's why organizers are ready to do whatever it takes to make sure these events happen in the coming months.

They also hope the community follows suit, keeping everyone accountability to keep pushing forward.

"We've been doing this for over a year. All of us. I think going forward we should continue that," Wright said.

"We need to be responsible as event planners."

"I want to see smiling faces again. We can't get there if that personal responsiblity isn't being met," O'Donnell said.

Old Settlers Days is set for June 17-20, Rockford's 4th of July Celebration will happen Sunday July 4 and the Boone County Fair begins August 10-15.

To find out more about event planning and tickets, click the links below.

Old Settlers Days

Rockford 4th of July Celebration

Boone County Fair

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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