Pinellas celebrates Independence Day

Across Pinellas County, people found myriad ways to celebrate the nation's 233rd birthday. Some took to the beaches. Others had family barbecues. Thousands made their way to one of the many fireworks displays. And although police and fire agencies said they received lots of calls from people complaining about their neighbors' fireworks, no injuries or major incidents were reported. Here's a look at how people throughout the county spent their holiday.

At the Oaks retirement community in downtown Clearwater, about 300 residents enjoyed a lunch prepared by American Legion Post 104 that included barbecued chicken, pulled pork, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and apple pie.

The smell of barbecue and the sound of songs such as God Bless the USA carried through the building.

Former Clearwater Mayor Charles LeCher, 70, said it was a good day to "relax, watch fireworks and overeat."

For resident Ivy Kennedy, July Fourth was "a reminder of my husband, who was in World War II, and my father, who was in World War I."

And Kennedy, president of the residents association, said the day was important to other Oaks residents, because they're a patriotic bunch. "They treasure our flag, they think our land is wonderful, our home is beautiful. We give grateful thanks to God."

You could see what she was talking about in the lobby of the complex overlooking Clearwater Harbor, as a karaoke singer crooned out the words to America the Beautiful.

The music faded toward the end of the song, but the lobby did not turn quiet. The voices of some 20 residents kept singing the words to the end:

"… from sea to shining sea."

As drivers came down Gulf to Bay Boulevard near U.S. 19 in Clearwater, some enthusiastically honked their horns and some made rude gestures, but it wasn't about the traffic. They were reacting to about 100 demonstrators who held up signs about a variety of issues:

Government Health Care Will make you Sick.

Stop Funding Acorn.

Stop Green Police.

Stop the Spending.

Mike Freese used his artistic talent to express his feelings, painting a picture of President Barack Obama in a red suit and a top hat with a communist symbol on it. He was saying: I want you to be a socialist.

Freese, 60, who said he is a retired state law enforcement officer, said he believes Obama is a socialist because "he's taking over General Motors and Chrysler. … He's controlling the banks."

Like many summer weekends, area beaches around Pinellas were packed on Saturday.

But one look around confirmed that it was no ordinary outing for many people.

Swimmers emerged from the water sporting American flag-inspired bathing suits, and several made sure the rest of their gear adhered to a red-white-and-blue theme as well.

For Beth Nelligan and her friends and family, trekking out to St. Pete Beach on the Fourth of July is a tradition.

Every year, the group stakes out a prime spot on the beach. They get there by 10:30 a.m. and stay through the fireworks — with an hour or so tucked away for a midday nap.

Nelligan is in charge of decorations, and the Tierra Verde resident does it up big.

"We're the party people," she said.

That meant the group had plenty of fried chicken, coleslaw, rolls, cupcakes, cookies, chips and beverages on hand Saturday. Even their beach chairs and table were decorated with stars and stripes.

It was all housed under a blue tarp, with no less than a dozen American flags stuck in the sand around the perimeter.

"We have done this for nine years," Nelligan said. "We're very proud to be American."

Virginia Laubach and her family found the fireworks that burst over downtown St. Petersburg Saturday night downright inspiring.

Laubach, 62, has seen the national fireworks display in Washington, D.C., and declared "St. Pete's is better. The show is always good here."

The family watched from the top floor of the parking garage at BB&T Bank as some fireworks blossomed into hearts and others changed colors.

"All of a sudden the whole sky lit up," said Laubach granddaughter, 13-year-old Ginger Trask. "It was really cool."

Curtis Krueger and Kameel Stanley, Times staff writers

Pinellas celebrates Independence Day 07/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 5, 2009 12:13am]

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