Some boys never outgrow their fascination for dazzling fireworks. Phil Travis of Shellsburg certainly didn’t. His interest in fireworks led him to the Iowa Pyrotechnics Association, learning safety procedures, and eventually to shoot off his own show just outside of town on the Fourth of July in 2018
“Shellsburg had never held fireworks on the Fourth of July before,” Travis said. “We did a test that year, sponsored by my own family. It was mostly about seeing if our location would work.”
While it was a smaller show, the test ignited interest in doing a longer display for the residents of Shellsburg to enjoy. Travis raised and received donations mainly from the American Legion and Shellsburg Lions Club for the first year and returned in 2019 with what he considered his first real show.
“We advertised it, but it was still a new thing for the community and we didn’t have many people,” Travis said. “They had their normal Fourth of July stuff. We felt the location was okay and close enough to the town to work.”
The second official year was in jeopardy of joining other shows across Iowa and being canceled due to COVID-19. While positive cases went down in May and most of June, they began to creep up slowly again weeks before Travis and his family planned to shoot off this season.
“We made the decision to go for it and put the word out to people to social distance as much as possible,” Travis said. “We’re trying to grow it each year and we definitely saw more people out this year. It really wouldn’t be possible without our sponsors.”
Shellsburg mayor Lonnie Speckner praised Travis for creating a “great show” and confirmed there were more people out to watch this year than last, albeit social distanced and eager to get out for an event.
“With not having town celebrations this year, these fireworks are a great thing for our community,” Speckner said. “It brings a sense of community back into our lives. People have not been able to get out much because of COVID, but fireworks allow them to enjoy a community event while being safe and keeping social distance. I really enjoyed it.”
While the family did not make their goal of $5,000 for purchasing fireworks this season, they doubled on donations from the audience and will set their sights on 2021 to hit that amount. Travis plans to hit up more businesses and send out more letters in the community.
“I honestly do feel we can hit that $5,000 next year because we have carryover for sponsors,” Travis said. “It’s a fun experience I can enjoy with my kids and teaching them safety around fireworks. They help me with electric matching and labelling. All of this isn’t something you do every day.”