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Memories of Rippey Iowa Fireworks by the Rittgers Sisters

Marna Rittgers Parker and Julene Rittgers Hunt share their memories of the fireworks held in Rippey, Iowa.

By Marna Rittgers Parker with help from her sister, Julene Rittgers Hunt  June 11, 2015
 It all started in the late 1940's or early 1950's.  Our father, Wesley Daniel Rittgers, had a farm outside Rippey off the highway to Perry.  I believe that farm is now owned by the Brown family but I could be wrong.  Our uncle Kenneth “Stix” Riley (married to our mother's sister Bernie) was a trucker.  Julene remembers it was a refrigerated truck carrying cheese and butter.  It was illegal for an individual to purchase fireworks in Iowa so Uncle Stix would stop in a state that did have fireworks during his travels.  Wesley and Stix would set the fireworks off in the front yard of the farm house.  Julene remembers that.  Me?  I was a baby and only cared about food and clean diapers.  Folks in Rippey could see the fireworks from the town and a few ventured out to the farm to watch.  As a result of its popularity, Stix would bring back more fireworks every year.  At some point in time – neither Julene nor I know exactly when – town fathers asked Wesley and Stix to bring the fireworks to town so more people could enjoy them.  It was then that the town began purchasing the fireworks for them to use.  Evidently a town or city could purchase fireworks in Iowa but not an individual. 
 Wesley and Stix were glad to oblige.  And so began the tradition of fireworks in Rippey after the baseball game.  They were set off on the other side of the outfield fence.  When I was older, I can remember Wesley readying the “launch pads” for the mortars.  He would take a five gallon bucket,  put a piece of heavy duty pipe in the bucket and fill the bucket up with sand.  Today, most of the displays are controlled by computers.  Back then it was Wesley and Stix setting them off with flares.  It's a wonder they didn't blow themselves up!
 During the years different helpers volunteered.  I hate to admit I can only remember two – Merle “Zip” Coon and by then brother-in-law Rod Hunt.  Great story about the year Rod helped Wesley.  Rod and Julene were living in Chicago at the time and came to Rippey for the Fourth.  Uncle Stix was having health issues then – he was still recuperating from his first heart attack.  Rod volunteered to help.  He hadn't planned on an adventure like this so didn't have any old clothes with him.  You had to wear something old because burn holds would ruin your clothes – particularly your pants.  Well Grandpa Charlie had a pair of old pants that Rod could squeeze into.   Everything was going well until one of the mortars misfired.  Instead of zooming up, it went up a few feet and made a turn right towards Wesley and Rod!  Fortunately the town had built a bathroom by the skating rink.  Both Wesley and Rod ran to the ladies facility and slammed the door just at the rocket went off!  Boom!  Different color sparks were everywhere!  There was a lull; the crowd was quiet; no one knew if they had  been injured or what had happened.  Shortly, the door of the bathroom opened up and we could hear those two laughing like two hyenas!  Rod would tell that story for years to come. 
 When Zip helped with the fireworks, it was hard for the crowd to tell Wesley apart from Zip.  For you long time Rippey residents you will remember that both Wes and Zip almost always wore bibby overalls with white t-shirts, and both were big men!  In the distance from the bleachers, you could see two figures out in center field dressed alike.  Never could tell which one was Wes and which one was Zip!
 Neither Julene nor I can remember what year Rippey stopped having a fireworks display on the Fourth.  For years it was tradition – baseball, hot dogs and cold drinks  from the concession stand,  band concert, and fireworks!  I will never forget those years.  Nor will I forget how the whole thing started – a family getting together at the farm on the Fourth with fireworks by Wes and Stix!