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Public service workers celebrated at holiday barbecue
Fourth of July tradition continues with patriotic event at Memorial Park
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Alexis Gillespie, 5, prepares to bite into a piece of watermelon Wednesday at Memorial Park Funeral Home during the annual Fourth of July cookout in honor of public safety workers.

The sights, smells, tastes and sounds Wednesday afternoon in Gainesville were truly American.

Surrounded by American flags and patriotic T-shirts, thousands gathered at the Fourth of July celebration in Gainesville to enjoy hot dogs, barbecue, watermelon and gospel music. They also got plenty of face time with political candidates seeking votes in the upcoming July 31 primary election.

The festivities marked the 19th time Memorial Park Funeral Home has held the Independence Day celebration in honor of local public service workers.

Firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers from local agencies didn’t have to wait in crowded lines to get their servings of barbecue and the fixings.

On-duty workers who couldn’t linger at the park in case of emergencies got plates delivered to their stations.

“It’s just a way to give back to people in public service,” said Billy Hendrix, a vice president at funeral home.

Scott Cagle, fire marshal for Hall County Fire Services, said the gesture is appreciated.

Cagle and other firefighters started their morning responding to a houseboat emergency in which 10 occupants, including five children, needed to be treated for carbon monoxide inhalation.

“After stuff like that, something like this event is a nice break,” he said.

Cagle said public service is a partnership between the emergency agencies and the community.

He said events like these are a nice way that Memorial Park and the community show their support.

The event annually draws between 2,500 to 4,500 people who enjoy the free plates of food. Before noon, Hendrix estimated 2,900 people, including emergency service workers, already had a ticket.

Especially in an election season, the event is also a chance for local candidates to shake hand with potential voters. On Wednesday, candidates for every office from Hall County tax commissioner to sheriff were out in force.

Hundreds of candidate signs clustered along the roadside of the park, giving visitors a taste of what they were in for. As attendees waited in line for their barbecue plates, candidates introduced themselves and passed out items bearing their names and the office they are seeking.

With temperatures heading near 90, the most popular campaign item became the hand fans several candidates and their supporters passed out at event entrances.

Pam Orr of Oakwood said she didn’t come with her family for the politics but for the food and music.

For Orr, it’s a low-effort way to spend the holiday.

“We come every year,” she said. “My husband works all the time, so this is nice. All you got to do is find a shady spot, eat and listen to music.”

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