As I made my way to the pool on the Fourth of July, I looked around at everything that was going on – a full house in the bingo tent, activities for the kids, sausages on the grill.  If Norman Rockwell were still alive, I think he would have wanted to paint the scene I saw. It embodied the genius of creating small communities outside major urban centers.

Often, when I write about experiences like that, I find myself giving credit to the leaders who envision the event, and recruit and organize people to make it happen. Leaders are important, and there’ve been a lot of good ones in this village during the 30 years that I’ve lived here.

But, as I watched all the activity in the park, I realized that it wasn’t the leaders who were making the event a success, it was the followers. The men and women, both paid and volunteer, who took orders from supervisors and chairpersons in order to turn visions into the reality that we all enjoyed on the Fourth; they, too, should be lauded for the event’s success.

Years ago, I was listening to a radio special on the Fourth of July. It asked why the American War of Independence was successful in producing a viable democracy, especially since the French Revolution resulted first in chaos and then spawned a tyrant named Napoleon. The answer given by the historians on the show was that the 13 colonies had better followers: better ordinary citizens who understood the vision of the Declaration of Independence and, thus, made it happen.

Our park director, Larry Piekarz, understands the importance of followers, especially when it comes to implementing successful programming at the Park. He raves about his paid staff, all who were working on the Fourth.

He mentioned volunteers like Joe Byrnes, who grilled about “a million Italian sausages”, and Lowrey Koslowski, who, likewise, “made a million tacos”. He also talked up some of his other staffers. There’s Sandy Byrnes, who is – don’t tell your kids – the Easter Bunny; and Maurice Sivek, who “works the grill for all special events”.  And he saluted, too, the youth sports coaches, the residents who wrap hot dogs at the All School Picnic, and the volunteers who pour beer at the No Gloves Nationals. They’re vital to every Park event.

Laurie Kokenes, the executive director of the chamber, spoke very highly of the volunteers who have helped out with chamber events.

“Volunteers are treasures. They are an integral part of any event and we couldn’t host an event like Summer Fest without them,” she said.

She singled out Judy Trage who “has done so much more than her share for the chamber. The great thing about Judy is she is willing to do anything and rarely complains about it. She truly enjoys serving. She manned the main ticket booth for all of Summer Fest. She is a huge help to me and to the Chamber.”

Laurie has a list a mile long of people who help make Summer Fest a success year after year. She also has an equally long list of village workers, elected officials, business owners and police officers who go beyond their dictated job descriptions, because they understand the point of the event and care about the village.

I asked a pastor in town to give me a list of “followers” he thinks are essential to the church’s functioning. After initially saying “Yes”, he then called me back to tell me he changed his mind because the list would be too long.

I can’t tell you how many business owners I’ve talked to over the years who liken their employees to “family”. The owners use the term because they know their workers – or, “followers”, if you will – are vital to the business’ success.

So, remember this, you followers: You might not get your name in the paper often, or get recognized with plaques or awards, but without you, a lot of the good in this town wouldn’t happen. 

– Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.