It all started with Thomas Jefferson and Liz Elk


A while after Thomas Jefferson complained that Congress had “mangled” his brilliant Declaration of Independence, Storm Lake established the Fourth of July as the date for the Star Spangled Spectacular. I have more affection and about as much admiration for Liz Elk as I do the great Enlightenment philosopher-president. She was the one who founded the Star Spangled Spectacular because Liz Elk was the organizing energy for the Storm Lake Area Arts Council.

It was decided that America should be free of Great Britain and that Storm Lake should have the biggest Independence Day festival anywheres around, all revolving around an arts fair.

It has grown into a huge town reunion where you can walk along the lake with a pork burger and run into Brian Linnan, an engineer like his dad, now living in Kansas City, or Dave Felton, a construction foreman like his dad, now living in Arizona. What a treat.

Somehow Liz Elk had the foresight to set up something that would not peter out, as so many town events run their course. The Spectacular just keeps on.

Liz was a special lady. She was of the L.B. Watt clan, former Storm Lake newspaper publishers. Publisher John lives in the Watt House on Cayuga Street. The cousins moved on to Grinnell where they got into the newspaper business and remain there today. Liz was assisted in her organizing efforts by her smiling and amiable husband of select words, Don. Her dry and gentle sarcasm was inherited by son Rob, an old chum of mine who makes people laugh in Los Angeles as an actor, comedian and house painter.

The Spectacular morphed into something certainly bigger and more diverse than Liz first imagined.

It is especially so when you witness the Big Parade with its Parade of Nations, from the friendly Bohemians (Bill Kozisek looks lovely in his little red vest) to the Tai Dam to the Sudanese. We proudly carry the Irish flag made at the hand of our own Betsy O’Ross, lovely Luxembourger wife Dolores, who once succeeded Liz at the helm of the Arts Council.

Our late great adman Mike Diercks took charge of the parade for many years with John. In return Mike got a walkie-talkie and command of a golf cart to satisfy his inner cop. He was able to tell horses to quit pooping in front of the Storm Lake Tornado Marching Band (they did not listen), urge the Mexican dancers to dance faster, order military units to retreat and coordinate all his activities with the SLPD Mobile Command Unit. He knew the 10-code from his days frighteningly as an Alta reserve officer and used it.

Possibly the highlight of our years was when Tim Gallagher got an audience with the Heater from Van Meter, Bob Feller, who was Grand Marshal of the parade. Which got Tim to telling the story about how he once faced Mike Boddicker in high school at Starmont (Strawberry Point). A ball whizzed past. The ump called it a strike. “Sounded like a ball to me,” Tim said as he walked back to the dugout.

Mike and John gave up parade duty and it still seems to happen, thanks to all the volunteers old and new who step up year after year. The Star Spangled Spectacular Committee is one of the few committees anywhere in the world that gets anything done, and it is bigger than most committees of the world, which makes the feat all the more amazing.

Of course, no Fourth of July would be official without Orren Knoffloch and crew dazzling us with fireworks amid the mosquitoes in Chautauqua Park.

Before Liz Elk, there was no big shebang. No Ann Margaret or Bob Feller. No kitsch in Sunset Park. No Knights of Columbus funnel cakes. Just us kids trying to blow off our thumbs with Black Cats. So thank Liz’s memory along with old TJ, John Adams and Ben Franklin. We couldn’t have done it without them.