Starting more than 50 years ago, the fireworks show has a long and proud history
Joe Chamberlain had no idea what a legacy he was starting when he set off fireworks next to what was known as Chamberlain Lake next to his home off Walnut Street near 121st Avenue. The year was 1970, and Joe wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July with his family and friends with fireworks, and the old logging pond he had dredged to 6 feet deep was the perfect setting.
“Mom and Dad’s house was the only one on the lake when he first shot off fireworks,” said Joe’s son John, who with a group of people later continued the tradition by launching the Tigard Old-Fashioned Fourth of July.
This year will mark the 52nd anniversary of the fireworks’ inception, which has gone on continuously except for the past two years due to COVID, but the show will be back this year in all its Technicolor glory.
Because it is hard to keep a fireworks display a secret, and Joe Chamberlain set off bigger and better fireworks each year, word got around about the growing display, and the crowds got bigger. Former Tigard Mayor John L. Cook has fond memories of those early fireworks displays. “As a little kid, I would go,” he said. “My dad (former Tigard Mayor John E. Cook) would bring our family and watch Joe launch the fireworks. I remember as a child going to the pond every year. It would be a party, people would drink beer and have picnics. It was a nice social gathering. It was put on for the community, and it was enjoyable.”
John Chamberlain recalled, “More and more people came to see the fireworks. We were at the lake 15 years, and the first few years, we didn’t need a permit. The last year there, people parked on on both sides of Walnut, leaving only one lane for traffic to get through.”
In addition, a housing development was built right next to the Chamberlains’ property, so the time had come to find a new location for the show. “My dad bumped into (former Tigard Mayor) Tom Brian at Davidson’s and asked about moving the fireworks display to Tigard High School,” Chamberlain said. “Tom loved the idea of creating a citywide family-oriented event. My dad remained excited about the fireworks show every year until his passing in March of 2020,” which was exactly 50 years after Joe Chamberlain set off his first fireworks display.
After the last show at Chamberlain Lake, about 15 people formed a committee to organize future fireworks shows, and one of them was Ron Royse, a Tigard businessman and a Tigard Police reserve officer. Chamberlain, who took over setting off the fireworks from his dad, got his pyrotechnics license, and the City Council, the Mayor, the Tigard Police Department, City of Tigard Public Works, the Tigard-Tualatin School District and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue all came on-board to support the Tigard Old-Fashioned Fourth of July.
In 1986 the first fireworks show took place in the Tigard High School football stadium and the surrounding grounds, where Chamberlain and his crew set off the fireworks. Royse handled the master of ceremonies duties and the entertainment in the stadium, and some community members sold popcorn and other refreshments to the attendees who didn’t bring picnic dinners.
And so the reincarnated event was off and running. “Or so we thought,” Chamberlain said. “Right after the first show, some dairy cows close by apparently didn’t care for the noise and decided to stop giving milk. Fortunately, after a day or two, they gave up the protest and started giving milk again.”
Average attendance grew to 4,000 to 5,000, not counting all the people in Cook Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, according to Chamberlain. As development increased around the high school, the decision was made to move the fireworks’ launching area to a parking lot in Cook Park. “This still afforded the people at the THS stadium an ‘in your face’ fireworks show as well as the hundreds at Cook Park,” Chamberlain said. “My crew and I launch all the fireworks by hand, which is the old-fashioned way, and we don’t use a computerized firing program.”
Royse added, “Watching John and his crew fire that show is like watching a military operation.”
While the other original committee members have moved or passed away, Chamberlain and Royse will be at it again this year, putting on this popular and memorable event with the support of the various public-service agencies.
At the THS Stadium, there will be kids’ games, face-painting, balloon animals, dancing and a great performance by the Tualatin Valley Community Band. Everyone is invited to bring a blanket and picnic basket to enjoy the event, “but remember there are no personal fireworks, no smoking and no alcohol on the school grounds,” Chamberlain said. “Official opening is 6 p.m. The fireworks show starts when it’s good and dark and lasts 20 to 30 minutes. What started on a small pond as a family affair will hopefully continue as a Tigard tradition for many more years to come.”
In response to a question about the City of Tigard’s support of the event, City Manager Steve Rymer provided the following statement: “By resolution, we contribute to the annual Tigard Fourth of July celebration. They apply for a community-events grant annually. We also provide ‘in kind’ services, for example, Police presence and Public Works trash pick-up. Historically, we have also had a booth at the event, where employees work in shifts and highlight city activities, projects and events. This event has not taken place in the last two years, due to COVID. However, they have applied for a grant this year. The proposed budget has $19,500 for event funding.”
Joanne Bengston, Executive Assistant to the City Manager and Mayor, said of the fireworks event, “Ron and John are absolute wizards who accomplish miracles every year with this event, plus they’re genuinely kind and dedicated to the community.”
Happy Fourth of July to everyone!
Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration
Location: Tigard High School Football Field
Date: Monday, July 4, 2022
All activity times are approximate:
6 p.m. Gates officially open (people will start showing up as early as 3 p.m.)
7:00 p.m. Kid games, face-painting, balloon animals, photo booth
8:00 p.m. Tualatin Valley Community Band performs
9:30 p.m. Fireworks: 20-30 minute show. (Start time varies due to darkness)