JEFFERSON - On a recent Friday evening children gathered at the Lake Shawnee clubhouse, listening for the patriotic music drift over the waters of Lake Shawnee. As soon as they hear those first few notes, they run to the dock to see the first boat come around the bend.
Waving a tourist gift-shop torch, Lady Liberty stands on the bow of a patio boat decorated with red, white and blue bunting. Though it’s twilight, she is easily visible in a neon green gown with matching foam crown.
Shane Coughlin gets a hand from his mom Pam as he gets out of the winning boat, a kayak dressed as an alligator. Pam Coughlin created the boat costume out of newspaper, trashbags and fabric.
Ellen Fuchs, a Lake Shawnee resident for 55 years, has long played the part of Lady Liberty in the annual boat parade. The tradition originated in the 1970s with boats and passengers in costume meeting at the lake’s clubhouse. After docking and debarking, the boaters, along with those waiting for them at the clubhouse, move to the adjacent sandy beach for a candle lightening ceremony that kick’s off the summer season.
The flotilla has been sparse in recent years, so with five kayaks and two more patio boats at this year’s celebration, event organizer Dina Troha says she is satisfied with the turnout. Nearly 60 people crowd the beach.
The boat contest winner, hands down, was Pam Coughlin, who turned a kayak into an alligator. Newspaper and trash bags fashioned limbs and a head. She even covered the boat in dark green fabric.
The evening is part July 4th, part summer camp. Patriotism, friendship and the promise of summer are the themes as boaters dock and a crowd gathers for the ceremony. A day of games pitting east side of the lake against the west awaits participants until the morning, but at the evening event, all are united. Organizers hand out white candles for a sing-a-long vigil. In ones and twos, people step up to the large Friendship Candles, for a light. These three towers of wax are themselves made of the leftovers candles from each year’s ceremony.
Resident Bill Childs leads the music, starting and ending with patriotic songs. But in the middle, reading by candlelight, the crowd follows along with lyrics sheets of Child’s ode to Lake Shawnee: “Our home in the mountains, our lake cool and clear. Surrounded by forests, with beaver and deer. Our neighbors are friendly, our spirit is tall. A community of caring, all for one, one for all.”