Fourth of July celebrations mean family, fireworks

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- For Raymond Dillman, growing up and celebrating the Fourth of July in Niles meant spending time with family.
Sitting around a table at the Senior Citizens Center on Bell Road Wednesday morning, he and others shared their memories of celebrating Independence Day in the area.
The 76-year-old, who in his entire life has never set off any fireworks, said his family did a lot of outside activities on the Fourth, such as picnics and family get-togethers.
Dillman, who was born, raised and has lived most of his life in Niles, said his family would go to Potawatomi Park and eat fried chicken and deviled eggs during the day.
Later in the evening, people would gather at Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport to watch the fireworks, he said.
Not allowed to shoot off fireworks because his parents wouldn't allow fireworks in their house, Dillman didn't think twice about what he remembers most from celebrating the Fourth here in Niles.
His wife, Frances, however, grew up in South Bend, Ind.
Her first time celebrating the Fourth here in Michigan was after she was married to Raymond.
Having grown up in a state where fire crackers and bottle rockets were legal, she said celebrating the Fourth in Niles was different from what she was used to.
Frances said the children she grew up with in South Bend, Ind., all had fire crackers.
But although her family at the time couldn't afford buying fireworks, a neighboring couple used to set off plenty.
Her most vivid memory of the Fourth goes back to a young girl in her neighborhood in South Bend who discovered there was still usable powder left in used fire crackers.
Frances said the girl then piled powder on the sidewalk.
Having lived in Michigan most of her life, Frances has gotten used to celebrating the Fourth here and thinks just as many people are celebrating the holiday as before.
Mack McNitt, another senior who spent Wednesday morning at the senior center, didn't move to Niles until 1937, when he was offered work at National Standard's factory here.
In his youth, McNitt was a seasoned baseball player who received offers from Michigan State University and Western Michigan University, but had to decline because he couldn't afford the many other costs of going to college.
The soon-to-be 91-year-old, who grew up in Keeler 35 miles north of Niles, said the children in Niles had bigger fireworks than what he was used to.
Although they had no bottle rockets back then either, McNitt remembers Roman candles and flaming fountains were part of what would be sent off on the Fourth here.
Having grown up in the early part of the century, McNitt said the Fourth back then was celebrated in much the same way as today.

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