Credit: Alison Borrelli

The annual Needham Fourth of July fireworks show will be a little bit bigger and grander than usual this year, clocking in at roughly 25 minutes. 

“In the past they’ve been more like 18 to 20, so these fireworks should be really good,” said John Terry, Needham Exchange Club treasurer and tri-chair of the organizing committee. The Exchange Club, which puts on the July 3 fireworks performance and organizes the July Fourth parade, made the change in order to build excitement for the weekend, Terry said.

 ”We thought it would be an attraction to get more people to come,” he said.

Credit: Alison Borrelli

The fireworks are a long-standing tradition in Needham, with the Exchange Club running the show from the late 1940s through roughly 1970, when they were suspended before returning around 1990. The event has since returned annually with a few brief interruptions, most recently in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What most attendees don’t realize, Terry said, is that the fireworks are put on by the Exchange Club, not by the Town of Needham. The town contributes some in-kind services such as helping with cleanup after the event, but the vast majority is paid for by the club, which relies on business sponsorships and sales of food and souvenirs. It costs about $85,000 to put on the fireworks event, Terry said. 

“The fireworks are a huge project,” he said. “Because it’s not just the fireworks, right? It’s the porta-potties, it’s the tents, the stage, paying for fire [department], paying for police. And I think that one of the challenges is that people think the town puts it on, when it’s actually paid for by business sponsorships and community fundraising.” 

The fireworks event officially begins at 5:30 p.m. on July 3 at Memorial Park, in the shadow of Needham High School. From 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. there will be children’s entertainment, including pony rides and face painting. The food tent will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., and a pie eating contest will be held at 6:30 p.m. 

Credit: Alison Borrelli

At 7 p.m The Reminisants, a band that focuses on music from the 1950s through the ‘90s, will take the stage. Before the fireworks, Demetrios Tsaniklides Jr. will perform the national anthem and other patriotic songs. The fireworks, staged by Pyrotecnico, begin at dark. 

On July Fourth, the parade begins at 9 a.m. from the town common, heading up Chapel Street, east across May Street, north on Webster Avenue, and then turning south down Highland Avenue before finishing at the Needham Public Library. Former Select Board member Dan Mathews will preside as grand marshal this year. 

The Exchange Club had lost money on the holiday of late — until 2022. Terry attributes the turnaround to the desires of both residents and businesses to get back to normal and participate in group events coming out of the worst of the pandemic. 

“Last year was the first (recent) year that we did well, I think, and it kind of erased a deficit that had built up over the last five or six years,” Terry said. 

This year, the two main corporate sponsors are Roche Bros., which is redoing its Chestnut Street store, and Boston Children’s Hospital, which is building a new facility in Needham. The Exchange Club also relies on donations from individual citizens.

(Editor’s note: Peter O’Neil, Needham Observer executive editor, is a member of the Needham Exchange Club. He was not involved in the reporting or editing of this story.)

Needham resident Daniel Barbarisi is a senior editor at The Athletic and a non-fiction author.

A look back

By Bob Baker
Credit: Alison Borrelli

Needham feels like a Norman Rockwell painting during the July Fourth celebrations, lit by fireworks and treated to an old-fashioned parade offering glimpses of Americana. 

“The Fourth of July presentation is the [Exchange] club’s signature project,” past President Mike Taggart said. In addition to the floats sponsored by businesses and community groups, neighborhoods were once eager to design and enter a float. You might see a convoy of sparkling Corvettes or hear the clamor of a kazoo band; championship Needham teams are a regular feature of the parade. A few years ago, the drum line from the Bethel African Methodist Church stole the show.

Tom Harkins, a lifelong Needham resident, recalls many of the town’s July Fourth celebrations. He said years ago he had to direct traffic on his street to get out of his own driveway near Fair Oaks Park and May Street. Emergency vehicles were unable to get to emergencies. He also recounted the story of a weeklong, themed Fourth of July event titled “From Red Men to Spacemen” in 1961, that celebrated every decade of the town’s 250 year history. And for years, Fred Muzi, the owner of Muzi Motors, rode his horse in the parade wearing body paint and a Native American headdress. Over the years, these traditions became obsolete in response to greater cultural awareness. 

Credit: Alison Borrelli

In the late ‘60s, the fireworks were discontinued because the town was flooded with visitors who parked anywhere they could, often on homeowners’ lawns, Taggart explained. 

In 1990, the Exchange Club experimented with expanded activities on Memorial Field that culminated in a laser light show. “Everything about the evening was great except for the light show, which was a dud,” Taggart said. “People realized it was time to bring the fireworks back.” He estimates that today, about 30,000 people attend the fireworks.

Needham resident Bob Baker is a former high school history teacher and curriculum writer.

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