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Marseilles council closer to approving the 2018 Freedom Fest

Denise Williams, a Gold Star mother and president of the Department of Illinois American Gold Star Mothers  whose son, PFC Andrew Meari, was killed in Afghanistan in November, 2010  speaks at the Marseilles City Council meeting Wednesday in an impassioned speech about the importance of the annual Freedom Fest. The 2016 celebration was canceled by Mayor Jim Trager due to excessive costs. Williams said the celebration, held in past years after the annual Freedom Run ceremony, gives attending Gold Star families comfort and promotes "healing" from their loss and grief.
Denise Williams, a Gold Star mother and president of the Department of Illinois American Gold Star Mothers whose son, PFC Andrew Meari, was killed in Afghanistan in November, 2010 speaks at the Marseilles City Council meeting Wednesday in an impassioned speech about the importance of the annual Freedom Fest. The 2016 celebration was canceled by Mayor Jim Trager due to excessive costs. Williams said the celebration, held in past years after the annual Freedom Run ceremony, gives attending Gold Star families comfort and promotes "healing" from their loss and grief.

With little discussion, the Marseilles City Council approved two special event permits Wednesday night in front of a packed City Hall.

However, it was another event — one not listed on the agenda — that brought residents and others to the meeting.

Since the 2016 Freedom Fest was canceled by Mayor Jim Trager in January due to excessive costs, certain Marseilles residents have been seeking to find solutions on how to reinstate the celebration for June 2018.

Except for two years, the Freedom Fest city celebration has followed the Freedom Run ceremony conducted annually at the city's Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial to honor soldiers who were killed in those conflicts.

Per Trager's suggestion last summer, a Freedom Fest citizen committee was formed and members have been preparing plans for months with the intent of reviving the fest for June 2018.

And although the committee submitted its detailed request two weeks ago, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Hollenbeck (Trager has been out sick for several weeks) said the council would not vote Wednesday on the permit because fest organizers have yet to meet with the city's police chief, the fire chief and ambulance personnel.

Committee member Michelle Rieuf-Glock questioned Hollenbeck as to why such mandatory meetings were not mentioned in the city's special events permit ordinance.

"Why was that never told to this committee?" she asked.

Hollenbeck did not directly answer the question, but did indicate, as did other officials at the meeting, including Police Chief Jim Hovious, the permit would be approved — perhaps at the council's Wednesday, Nov. 15, meeting.

Hollenbeck also announced resident Bobby Kaminski and Cherise Byone had agreed to be intermediates between the council and the committee to resolve remaining issues concerning the celebration.

Denise Williams, a Gold Star mother and President of the Department of Illinois American Gold Star Mothers from Plainfield — whose son, PFC Andrew Meari, was killed in Afghanistan in November 2010 — gave an emotional address to the council about the importance of the annual Freedom Fest to suffering families.

"Today is the seventh anniversary of my son's death and I am here to tell you how much comfort both the ceremony and the celebration has given to me and other grieving families," Williams said.

"The experience of a dignified ceremony and the Fest (in the past) has given me much healing, and last June, the attending Gold Star families were deprived of that honor and comfort. The entire day, not just the ceremony, is important for healing." 

Hollenbeck said it was vital for the event and everyone involved the preparations move forward.

Kaminski, who also is chairman of the Middle East Tribute board, invited members of the citizen committee and the public to attend a meeting at City Hall, 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6, to discuss the final details of the after party.

"Cherise and I have organized six previous Freedom Fests and we are passionate about the success of next year's celebration," said Kaminski. "We will work to get approval from the council and set the plans in motion within the next few weeks."

Keeping public safety in mind, Hovious said, following a review of the citizen committee's permit request, there were only "small, minor details" about security to be worked out. He said he was confident the celebration would happen next year.

In other business, the council approved a special events permit for the annual Holiday Magic Santa Parade for Saturday, Dec. 2, and the permit for the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run ceremony on June 16, 2018.

Before adjournment, Ron Dickerson, one of the fest's organizers, suggested to commissioners they consider revising the special event ordinance to include the mandate of meeting with certain city officials before applying for a permit.

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