Wellsburg marks 4th with parade, Oil Can Derby

WELLSBURG – From the popular Oil Can Derby to its nightly free concerts, Wellsburg’s week-long celebration of Independence Day has brought together people of all ages, current and former residents and visitors from various places.

Thursday’s festivities included a flag raising ceremony at the E.R. Nichols Playground in the city’s 1st Ward, the recently revived Oil Can Derby, the annual parade on Charles Street and fireworks display observed by many at the Betty Carr Recreation Site as well as many other places in the city.

And the celebration isn’t over, with a free concert featuring Twice As Nice at 7 p.m. today at the Central Park and on Saturday, an all-ages fishing tournament at 6:30 a.m. at the 12th Street boat ramp, the Anything That Floats Race at 1 p.m. at the Crooked Dock, formerly Pier 12; and another free concert, this one featuring the Eldurays, at 7 p.m. at Central Park.

Revived last year by Fred Marino after a lengthy hiatus, the Oil Can Derby returned this year with more than 20 racers. Many gathered to watch them careen from the steep end of Fourth Street to the finish line at its intersection with Charles Street.

There were two divisions: stock, for racers and cars not exceeding a combined weight of 210 pounds; and super stock, for racers and cars not exceeding 225 pounds.

Winners were:

Stock: Skye Murdock, first place; Brody Secosky, second place; Bobo Billiard, third place; and Mia Camilletti, fourth place.

Super stock: Austin Provenzano, first place; Cross Billiard, second place; Brendan Garvey, third place; and Austin Woodburn, fourth place.

A plaque of appreciation was presented to Dan Gilchrist, the derby’s first winner in 1947, by Marino, who also is the event’s sponsor; and Debbie Baker, co-chair of the Wellsburg Applefest Committee.

Gilchrist served as marshal of the Independence Day parade, riding in a vintage automobile pulling a trailer with Old 97, the car in which Gilchrist won.

Disc jockey Dave Secrist offered a play-by-play as the racers in this year’s derby descended.

Orange barrels supplied by the state Division of Highways prevented them from veering into pedestrians, though only one car struck one and no one was hurt.

Wellsburg resident Dick Lauck recalled how he and other racers once pulled their cars back to the start line as he watched the race from his daughter’s porch. With him was his nephew, Burt Lauck, who came from Eaton, Mich. to visit his family and ride his tractor in the Independence Day parade.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the parade,” said Burt, who hauled the tractor from Michigan so he could take part.

Becky Ramsey, a Wellsburg native visiting from Baltimore, has fond memories of the derby and parade.

“This (the derby) is so fun. I can’t believe all of the girls involved,” she said with a smile.

Ramsey added, “This was one of my favorite things when I was a kid. And another thing was decorating your bike for the parade. We would spend the afternoon decorating our bikes.”

This year children again were invited to decorate their bicycles in patriotic theme for the parade, with the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club presenting prizes to the best entries in a contest held on the town square before it.

Billie Jo Falcon of Bethany, a former Wellsburg resident, said, “I remember decorating a float for each playground. Of course that was when each park had a supervisor.”

Falcon explained the city once employed part-time playground supervisors, including herself as a teen, to organize activities, including weekly wienie roasts, at the parks.

Many of the events brought back memories for residents and visitors.

Resident Margaree Campbell, who turned out for the flag raising, said, “I’ve been in Wellsburg 75 years. Every year I make it (to Independence Day events) and I can watch the fireworks from my front walk. I also really enjoy going to the things in the park.”

At the flag-raising ceremony, remarks on the celebration of the nation’s birth and prayers for its future and those who defend it were offered by Mayor Sue Simonetti, the Rev. Aaron Miller and Mary Jo Guidi, a representative of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

The national anthem and “God Bless America” were sung by Toni Taylor, while taps was performed by Brooke High School band members Justin Hoff and Kodey Liller.

Tech Sgt. Ed Kokosinski and Staff Sgt. John Graham of the 911th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve were on hand to raise the U.S. flag.

Simonetti said the volunteer members of the Wellsburg 4th of July Committee should be applauded for organizing a variety of events over the week.

“They have really done a fantastic job. Each year I say they have outdone themselves and this year, they have outdone themselves again,” she said.

Cecil Toner, who co-chairs the committee with Baker, said, so far the events haven’t been affected by the week’s sporadic rain.

“We had to end the concert a little early (Wednesday) night, but so far, it’s been good weather,” he said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)