Lutz shows off its Fourth of July spirit

It may be three-quarters of a century old, but the Lutz Fourth of July Parade showed no signs of slowing down last week.

Scores of people came out to this community, north of Tampa, to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

Mohamed Said, of Wesley Chapel, left, and his wife, Shannon, dressed their children — 4-month-old Sophia and 2-year-old Mila — in red, white and blue, to celebrate the nation’s birthday at the Fourth of July festivities in Lutz. (Christine Holtzman)

Runners endured the morning’s humidity, as they completed the 5K and 1-mile races while being cheered by onlookers.

By 8 a.m., pop music blared from the speakers as patrons came out in hordes to visit local vendors, who had set up on the expanse of green across from the Lutz Branch Library.

Vendors were offering everything from homemade jams to burgers to antiques and other goods. There was a place where voters could register, too.

Bubba Lee was there promoting his organic drinks called Bubba’s Earth Juice.

Based in Wesley Chapel, the company promotes good health by offering various drinks made from such ingredients as kale, spinach, cinnamon, ginger and fruits.

Amy Lancaster proudly holds the key to Lutz, after winning the Guv’na title.

“I think it’s good for the body, and I want everybody to try it,” Lee said. “I want to make America healthy again,” he added.

It was his first time at the Lutz event and he was impressed by the atmosphere.

“I plan on coming back,” Lee said. “It seems to be pretty nice, and I like the fact that they’ve got runners here.”

A more familiar vendor, Kona Ice, was present with its truck parked at the corner of U.S. 41 and Lutz Lake Fern Road.

Matt Burnett stood in the truck ready to sell snow cones on this hot summer day.

Kona Ice has been at the parade four times, Burnett said. “Each year, we do better and better.”

The snow cones are a big hit with children and adults, he said. The kids tend to favor the blue-raspberry cones, while the adults like the mango-pina colada combo.

AJ’s Snow Balls, across the field, was popular, too. A long line formed, as patrons stood in sweltering heat awaiting their turn to get their hands on the frozen treats.

Runner Lauren Belbel took refuge in the shade, after finishing the 5K run with her sister.

Korean War Veteran Col. Lester O’ Steen, of Lutz, right, sings ‘God Bless America,’ while he walks with Commandant and Marine 4 Life Chairperson Shawn Piccolo. The Marine veteran was in the Korean War in from 1951-1954.

Belbel said she heard about the upcoming race, and was glad that she and her family — on vacation from Illinois — were able to be at the event.

“It was pretty fun, [a] really good atmosphere to run in,” Belbel said. “Everyone seems really friendly and welcoming.”

In fact, that Lutz welcome was so warm it was enough to make her consider coming back again next year, she said.

While some along the parade route were enjoying the festivities for the first time, there were regulars like David Bellingar, a Lutz resident for over 40 years.

He was happy to share this year’s event with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Over the years, he has watched the parade evolve and witnessed all kinds of parade entries — including belly dancers.

“Every year there’s something different,” Bellingar said, adding he enjoys the vendors.

“I like to see what people bring to sell,” he said, including the antiques.

In his very first official race, 8-year-old Nathaniel Acosta, of New Tampa, right, is seen crossing the finish line of the 1-mile run. His father, Nathan, uses his cellphone to film the moment.

And, he doesn’t mind the attention directed his way, either, as people comment on his signature hat.

It’s hard to miss his brim hat decorated with small toy tractors and animals, as well as dollar bills folded in unique shapes.

He won the hat at a fundraiser in a Lutz Guv’na campaign years ago, and he’s worn it to the parade every year since then.

While spectators took notice of the tiny tractors on Bellingar’s hat, both children and adults were attracted to the life-size antique tractors and automobiles lining the open field near the Lutz Train Depot.

Kids couldn’t wait to check out the tractors, which were brought to the event courtesy of Wayde Lovelace, of Just Tractors company.

The Lutz resident sat to the side watching happy children grab a tractor’s steering wheel — and said he comes to the event mainly for the kids.

Boy Scout Troop 12 once again was involved in the event — arriving early to set up tables and to pitch in, where needed.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that the whole troop can give back to the country, give back to the community,” said scout Sean Monahan. “I’ve been doing it as long as I’ve been in Boy Scouts itself, since I was 11. I even did it with the Cub Scouts, since I was in first grade.”

One of the beautifully decorated cakes featured in the cake contest and auction. This cake, which was titled ‘The Ultimate Lutz Candy Celebration Cake,’ was one of the entries for the Youth 11- to 18-year-old category.

Fellow scout Mason Ritchie added: “I have not missed a single parade. I always like to march in the front of the parade with the American flag.”

And, sure enough, Troop 12 led the parade as the procession made its way down Lutz Lake Fern Road.

There were other regulars in the parade, too, including the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club, the Lutz Chiefs, The North Tampa Lutz Cadette Squadron, band players, an antique fire truck and children riding bikes.

Large crowds lined the parade route, chanting and cheering as the parade passed by.

Those passing by in fire engines, pirate ships, military vehicles, jeeps and other vehicles did more than just wave back — they also tossed out candy, beads and toys into the enthusiastic crowd.

While most of the festivities were outdoors, there was a cake contest and auction inside the Lutz Community Center.

Tables were laden with entries.

The winning youth entry was titled “The Ultimate Lutz Candy Celebration Cake” and described as “An explosion of assorted candy that will gush out when cut.”

Other entries were a red-white-and-blue cake shaped like the United States, an orange creamsicle cake, a fudge coconut cake, a vanilla confetti, and a sour cream cake.

Sharon Oliphant, president of the GFWC Florida Woman’s Club, was one of three judges. “You can tell they did a lot of thinking ahead of time before they started decorating,” she said.

Another highlight was the swearing-in ceremony of the new Lutz Guv’na.

The honorary title goes to the person who raises the most money, which goes to help a variety of community causes.

This year’s candidates, Amy Lancaster and Jane Mason, raised a total of $5,562, with Lancaster raising the most.

In true Lutz tradition, she took the oath of office on the Old Lutz Depot stage — donning a Dr. Seuss hat, and receiving a sash and key to the city of Lutz.

Her family joined her on stage.

Lancaster’s efforts to raise funds to help her community and her family joining her on stage were just a couple of signs that Lutz’s time-honored traditions of celebrating Independence Day are still going strong, after 75 years.

Published July 10, 2019

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