Who funds the Frankfort fireworks?
Elberta and Frankfort have always had somewhat of a rivalry in one way or another. But one such rivalry that you may not know about has been going on for the past 17 years: a hot annual competition between Elberta’s Mike Jones and Frankfort’s Steve Christian that always ends with a bang.
Every Fourth of July, Jones and Christian walk up and down Frankfort’s Main Street collecting money to fund the fireworks display that is lit off of the Frankfort pier and can be seen from both the Elberta and Frankfort beaches. They do this for eight to nine hours, starting just before the parade at 10 a.m. and not ending until close to dusk. The winner is declared that night, based on who brings in the most cash.
Both men are very invested in this small community: Jones, born and raised in neighboring Manistee, is a retired chief warrant officer with the U.S. Coast Guard who has since served as a commissioner for Benzie County and now serves on the Gilmore Township Zoning Board and the Planning Commission, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the County Convention and Business Bureau. He and his wife, Iris, have owned and operated the Wayfarer Lodging in Elberta since 1994. His mother-in-law—known as “Mom”—has worked for many years at Dinghy’s Restaurant, which is owned by Jones’s buddy and cohort in the fireworks effort, Christian, also a dedicated community volunteer.
To help get the attention of both residents and those who are just in town for the day, Jones and Christian wear standout ensembles of American flag pants, blue vests, and various head coverings—not to mention comfortable shoes. You can’t miss them, in part because of their outlandish outfits, but mostly because they won’t let you; they call out to you good-naturedly and point at their donation buckets during the parade, as well as later on in the day as you’re trying to enjoy an ice cream cone on the sidewalk.
Jones and Christian keep their cash accumulations separate, making deposits to the Frankfort-Elberta Chamber of Commerce throughout the day. When the total is tallied, the loser gets to buy the winner a libation or two at the end of what is sure to have been a very long day.
Why do they do it? Well, what would the Fourth of July be without a fireworks display?
From small towns to big cities, most of us look forward to the big night, and this has certainly been a highlight in Frankfort, where an estimated 20,000 onlookers gathered in 2014, according to the Frankfort Police Department. This is a huge influx of humanity—and concurrent traffic—for a town of only about 1,300 year-round residents.
According to the Frankfort-Elberta Chamber, the cost of fireworks has risen to $420 per minute, or between $12,000 and $14,000 for the annual display. Most of the money comes in from community contributions, and the Chamber is responsible for the remaining balance. (Your taxes do not furnish one penny toward the fireworks display that we all know, love, anticipate, and take for granted.)
In addition to Jones and Christian’s physical exertions, contributions arrive from other sources. Red containers are placed strategically around town for collections on the Fourth of July. Most of the Chamber’s 200 business members contribute ahead of time, and individual donors help, too, such as one thoughtful family whose home fronts the beach.
So as you look up over Lake Michigan at the stars and the impressive, colorful show this Independence Day, please remember all who make this possible—and maybe think about putting a little something in the collection containers.
The Frankfort Fourth of July parade begins at 10 a.m. at the east end of Main Street by Graceland Fruit; it continues west along Main Street until it turns at the Benzie Shores District Library onto 7th Street, then turns again onto Forest Avenue and continues westward. The parade turns onto Michigan Avenue, then gets back onto Main Street and heads east again all the way back to Graceland Fruit where it began.
There will be free Benzie Bus shuttles in Frankfort from 12-6 p.m. on the Fourth of July. Normally the free shuttle service will operate Thursday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. However, with the parade in the morning, the service will not start until noon on July 4. Get on the bus to avoid parking dilemmas during the day. Fireworks begin at dusk and can be seen from both Elberta and Frankfort beaches.
Behind the Scenes
The Frankfort Police Department has an organizational challenge to plan for on the Fourth of July. In addition to keeping everyone safe, they have to help navigate the 20,000 festival-goers around town.
There will be some minor changes to this year’s traffic control, according to Chief of Police Rob Loznowski. The turn-around at the beach will be designated entirely for handicapped parking, and no dogs are allowed—not because we don’t love dogs, but because at least once every year a panicky canine escapes family control and races down Main Street trying to escape the noise. Please leave your pets at home; they don’t enjoy fireworks!
Other tips from
• Please do not bring your own fireworks; they will be confiscated.
• No glassware at the event; cans, plastic, and paper are safer.
• Remember that the closer you park to the beach, the longer it will take you to leave for home. It usually takes the police department about an hour and a half—or longer—to clear out all the traffic.
• You can drop off your family, friends, and gear in two spots that will be labeled for drop-off and pick-up only, no parking. One area will be on the south side of Michigan Avenue, the other on the north; Heffron Hill up to Paul Oliver from the beach will be closed to all traffic.
• The police department will erect barricades between the condominiums; if you leave your car in the prohibited areas, it will be impounded. Sorry.
• A team of six to eight Citizen Emergency Response Team members will be on hand to help with traffic control and any problems that visitors might have. We want everyone to have a healthy and happy Fourth of July.
Feature photo of the Frankfort Fireworks display by Aubrey Ann Parker.