It was a cake never to be forgotten — for 1,000 reasons.
The site of the 1876 Fourth of July celebration in Union included a 95-pound Centennial cake that had a circumference of 8-1/2 feet and a diameter of 32-1/2 inches and was cut into 1,000 pieces, according to the book “Oregon’s Flamboyant Fourth” by Doris Huffman.
People coming to the Union County Fourth of July fireworks show in Union on Thursday will not find such a cake, but they will find more than their share of delicious entrees and excitement.
Beginning at 5 p.m., the site of the fireworks show, the Union High School athletic complex, will be filled with food and drink vendors, the sounds of the local band AKA, children enjoying rides on a small train and close to two dozen people smiling after winning cash gifts and prizes.
All of these new activities will culminate with the highlight of the night, a colorful show put on by Western Display Fireworks of Lake Oswego.
The celebration will be at Union High School’s athletic complex, which was where the most recent Fourth of July festivities in Union were conducted in 2018.
“We want to build on what we had last year,” said Doug Wiggins, a member of the Union County Action Fireworks Committee and the City of Union’s city administrator.
Union County’s fireworks show had been held at Eastern Oregon University’s Community Stadium for at least three decades but was moved to Union last year because of excavation and building work at EOU that is continuing this summer.
New additions at this year’s show will include the giveaway of $25 every 15 minutes, beginning at 7:15 p.m. The money will come from a $400 donation given specifically for this purpose. Door prizes from local businesses will also be given away and there will be a 50/50 raffle. The Fourth of July event will also feature a patriotic dress contest for youths age 11 and younger.
Free rides from La Grande to Union and back will be provided by Northeast Oregon Public Transit. Buses will leave both the Union County Senior Center and the Rite Aid-ACE Hardware parking areas north of the senior center at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Union County Sheriff deputies and members of Union County Search and Rescue will be present to provide parking guidance at the athletic complex for those who don’t take the bus.
The Union County Action Fireworks Committee has almost reached its goal of $22,000 for this year’s show. Wiggins said that about $3,000 more will be spent this year than a year ago. He stressed that all money donated now that is not used for Thursday’s celebration will be spent on fireworks for 2020. He said the committee likes to have money donated early because it can get better bargains when it makes purchases in advance.
Major donors for the Fourth of July event include Red Cross Drug, Millers Home Center, Falks Mini Mart, Safeway, Union County and the City of Union.
This year’s show will be bigger and more organized than the last because the Union County Action Fireworks Committee has known for a year that it would again be put on in Union. Wiggins said that in 2018 the committee had only three weeks to prepare for the Fourth of July event.
Wiggins said some Union businesses will have extended hours on Thursday night because of the fireworks show. These will include LJ Brewskis, a grill pub. Owner Lavelle Braun said he had a minor uptick in business a year ago on July 4 and expects a bigger crowd this year because more people in Union County now know the fireworks show has been moved to Union.
The total attendance at last year’s fireworks show in Union is not known, in part because people watched it from all parts of Union. Wiggins said about 200 people attended the event at the high school athletic complex and another 25 to 50 watched at the old football field at Union High School, which is about a half mile from the athletic complex.
One reason the UHS athletic complex was again chosen as the site of the event is that it is on school district property, said Union Mayor Leonard Flint. This will make it easier to ensure that it remains a smoking- and alcohol-free event since both are banned on public school property.
“We want it to be family friendly,” Flint said.