As America gets ready to celebrate its 238th birthday on Friday, 101-year-old Helen Grosvenor has seen more than her fair share of Fourth of July celebrations. But this year is going to be a little different.
Helen was chosen to serve as the grand marshal for Newton’s “Hometown Fourth of July Parade” and will have her daughters, Joyce Ringgenberg and Judy Aiello, by her side to serve as her “marshalettes.”
“I just thought, ‘Well, here’s one of these things I haven’t done before.’ It took 100 years to get there,” Helen said before a laugh.
Helen is extremely grateful for this opportunity and said she can’t wait to see community residents at the parade.
Joyce said her mother received the honor after their cousin, Wallace Schermerhorn, suggested she nominate Helen for the duty. After Joyce filled out the application, the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce announced on Facebook it had chosen Helen.
“I was pretty excited. I get pretty shaky thinking about it,” Helen said. “(I) just want to see the people, I guess. So many people, and I’ve never been in (the parade) before. I’ve heard a lot of people say they are coming just on my account.”
With Helen still being the matriarch of the family, the significance of her selection has not been lost on her family members. Joyce said they have relatives coming from Omaha, South Dakota, Ames and Grinnell. One grandson is disappointed he can’t come because he’s conducting business in the Philippines.
Ironically, a lot of people think of the Fourth of July and fireworks synonymously, and Helen admits she’s not much of a fan of fireworks.
“Sparklers are my favorite,” she said.
In preparation for her duties as grand marshal, Joyce and Helen sat down together as Joyce took notes on some of her mother’s favorite Independence Day memories.
One memory Helen estimates took place when she was around 10 years old involves her hiding under the bed until the firecrackers were done. Another passage details how much she loved family gatherings at her Uncle John Schermerhorn’s, Wallace’s father, because she got to see so many relatives.
A story from her teenage years shows just how much change Helen has truly seen in her lifetime. Helen would often go to the former county fairgrounds, which is now Maytag Park, and watch horse races. She said some boys there would throw firecrackers at her, knowing her fear, and that it was “not fun.”
Helen, along with her friend, Dorthy Weeks, did find a way to get revenge. She said they would volunteer in food pavilions at the Metz Church, and after they were done serving, they’d help wash dishes and then throw the dirty dishwater at boys who tried flirting with them.
Joyce said her favorite memory of Fourth is how her mom would always make matching dresses for her and her sister.
Back in the here and now, Helen is more than prepared for her big debut. She and Joyce have already picked out her outfit, and she’s been practicing her “queen wave.”
“There are so many people that have thought she looked like the queen, so they said, ‘Do the queen wave. Practice your queen wave,’” Joyce joked.
As one of the most senior residents in Newton, Helen has a single reason that she credits for her longevity and ability to experience what will now be her 101st Fourth of July — her faith.
“I always say that God is the one that keeps me here. It’s all in his hands,” she said.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.