STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
While Marble Falls businesswoman Judy Miller won’t admit she probably helped save the annual Marble Falls Fourth of July Fireworks in 2009, she definitely played a big role in resurrecting the celebration.
Now, after almost 10 years of fundraising and organizing the Independence Day fireworks and community event, she’s handing it off to the city of Marble Falls.
“I passed off my list of contacts and what I had been doing,” Miller said. “The city can make a great celebration for the community. It’s a lot for one or two people to put on each year. To have a team they can put toward it is a great deal. I think it’ll be good.”
The city met with Miller in early March to begin the transition.
“Nothing has changed much except that we’re helping to coordinate,” Marble Falls City Manager Mike Hodge said. “Judy was in the middle of all this.”
Monique Breaux, the city’s recreation coordinator, who was hired in February, will be organizing the city’s Fourth of July event.
Miller jumped into the fireworks show in 2009, not long after the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce announced it would no longer host the event, which it started in 2001. She wasn’t the only one who realized the need for the the display.
On July 4, 2009 — about a month after the chamber’s announcement — a grandmother who had brought her family into River City Grille to dine and enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks berated Paul Brady, the restaurant’s owner and chamber board member.
She wanted to know why the fireworks over Lake Marble Falls wasn’t happening and let her displeasure be known to Brady.
Brady understood the patron’s outrage.
“Fireworks in Marble Falls are a big deal,” Brady said. “They’re a big deal all over the Hill Country, not just Marble Falls.”
The chamber had to drop the fireworks display due to associated costs and funding. In June 2009, then-Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christian Fletcher announced the organization couldn’t continue paying for the event following a Texas Attorney General opinion that decreed hotel occupancy tax funds couldn’t be used for fireworks displays. Other economic factors also played into the decision.
The chamber tapped HOT funds for the entire fireworks display from 2001 to 2004 but, in the ensuing years, began using its own funds to cover half or more than half of the cost. In 2008, the chamber and its members ponied up all the $12,000-$15,000 for the Fourth of July fireworks.
Local chamber officials were also following the advice of the state chamber of commerce, which recommended chambers save money for other purposes rather than spending it on expendable fireworks without an accompanying money-generating event.
Realizing the Fourth of July fireworks were still wanted, Brady couldn’t let the grandmother’s scolding go unheeded. He contacted the pyrotechnics company the chamber had used in previous years and and told them to be ready to put on a show in Marble Falls in 2010. He wasn’t the only one who wanted to see fireworks over Lake Marble Falls.
Miller, who sat on the chamber’s advisory board in 2009, began fundraising later that year.
A self-professed fireworks fan, Miller started raising money to pay for the fireworks in the fall of 2009 about the time she discovered that Brady had already contacted the pyrotechnics company.
Miller, who was by then a member of the chamber’s board of directors, and other volunteers had persuaded more than 50 businesses and individuals to contribute nearly $19,000 to bring the traditional fireworks celebration back.
Miller, at the time, said the Independence Day fireworks would be preserved through the next five years, and it wasn’t because people were donating several thousands of dollars in one lump sum.
“I had a lot of donors that first year,” she said. “I asked them, ‘Can I count on you for a commitment for five years?’ We had some breathing room the next five years, that started us off.”
In 2011, Marble Falls Community Fireworks, the fundraising arm of the event, was created.
Brady called the two of them working together “a really good partnership.”
“The tradition of fireworks in Marble Falls needed to continue,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to be able to pull that off for years.”
Miller and other volunteers created a Fourth of July celebration beyond fireworks. The event, re-starting in 2010, offered music, food, and a few other activities.
In 2013, the city of Marble Falls added a $1 line item on water bills called the Community Events Fund which has covered the $19,000 for the annual fireworks since. Miller and the Marble Falls Community Fireworks volunteers continued to raise funds to provide the additional activities such as live music.
While Miller helped spearhead the effort, she’s quick to point out she hasn’t done it on her own.
“I would just assume you’d leave me out,” she said with a laugh regarding any praise for reestablishing the Fourth of July fireworks. “It’s something I loved doing. I don’t do it for pats on the back. It’s something I enjoy. I love seeing the people, the fireworks, and the camaraderie. I guess there’s a little bitty piece of me that’s sad to hand it off. I think they’ll do a fantastic job.”
Brady agreed the city will continue the tradition.
“I’m excited Marble Falls is taking it over for lots of reasons,” Brady said. “I believe it’s a good investment. It’s a great community event.”
And many residents, business owners, and the like are grateful to Miller for lighting the fundraising fuse that returned fireworks on the Fourth of July to Marble Falls.