Hundreds of people turned out to honor the public servants of Hall County and Gainesville at the 15th annual July Fourth cookout at Memorial Park Funeral Home.
While Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic joined Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper and Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell in thanking the public for their show of support, politicians seized the opportunity to do some campaigning.
From under the shade of the Memorial Park tent, several politicians seeking election to local and regional positions stepped up to the microphone one by one to say their bit.
Many new candidates offered what they called fresh ideas to the small army of constituents chomping on barbecue and slaw. Others promised they wouldn’t raise taxes.
Jack Frost, owner of Memorial Park Funeral Home, said there’s at least one thing you can count on at the cookouts.
"Every two years you can rely on the politicians being there," Frost said. "You can count on them coming. It brings out the best in them. They know they’re going to be surrounded by their constituents."
And sure enough, candidates arrived early at the July Fourth party to guarantee their moment in the spotlight.All four candidates for the two Hall County Board of Commissioners seats open this fall came out to the barbecue, along with Chris Strickland, who is running for the state House of Representatives District 25 seat against Rep. James Mills. And clerk of courts candidates Jennifer Gibbs, Bob Vass and Charles Baker came out to advertise themselves as honest financiers.
But Frost said the real reason he started the annual barbecue was to honor the men and women who serve Hall County and Gainesville every day putting out fires and keeping families safe.
"I really feel that the public servants are the most underpaid, highly skilled professionals in Hall County. So I said ‘Let’s have a barbecue to thank them,’" Frost said.
Hall County Fire Maj. Scott Cagle said the gratitude community members express to public servants each year at the July Fourth cookout is encouraging. "Other than Sept. 11th, this is one of those days that people come up and pat you on the back and say ‘thanks,’" Cagle said.
"It makes you feel good. It also makes you want to strive to do better because you know people appreciate you."
Mike LeFevre, a firefighter engineer at Hall County fire station No. 4, said it’s humbling when residents show their love for public servants at the event.
"It’s quite an honor that people would show their appreciation this way," he said. "We don’t need to be thanked, but it sure feels good."
Frost said for the first barbecue in the early 1990s, in addition to honoring public servants, he wanted the event to be held in honor of those in the military who were fighting in the Gulf War at the time.
Fifteen years later, Frost is still dishing out barbecue to honor the men and women who are serving the United States in the Middle East.