In 1973, when Americans were burning American flags and spitting on American soldiers returning from the Vietnam war, calling them “baby-killers,” a group of Roberts Avenue neighbors met on a weekend brunch. I invited a few neighbors to my patio.
Neighbor Al Kernagis, an engineer at RCA, was also a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force Reserves. He was a pilot, on weekends, flying American boys to Vietnam to fight in the war then flying back with dead American men in body bags.
Kernagis was passionate about patriotism. He and his wife, Ursula, were also passionate about neighborliness. Howcome Haddonfield had so many folks who didn’t know their neighbors?
The brunch moved into a “LET’S DO SOMETHING” mood. We would challenge other Haddonfield neighborhoods to compete with us in patriotism, in neighborliness. And so it was born: an all-day July 4th celebration. Neighbor Dave Maynes designed a 20-by-40-foot America flag. His wife, Mitzi, a skilled seamstress, rounded us neighborhood women to sew this flag. People wept when they saw us carrying the flag down Kings Highway.
What started as 80 neighbors carrying this flag in the town’s parade in 1973, has turned into 46 years of all-day, July 4th celebrations. We always build a float and march in the parade. Police block off the opening block of Roberts Avenue for our afternoon block party, cook-out and 4 hours of games: bobbing apples, three-legged races, watermelon eating contests, balloon stomps, sack races, dress-up-relays, tug-of-war, egg toss.
Has neighborliness flourished on Roberts Avenue? We help neighbors catch lost dogs. We warn each other about thieves. We swap news about roofers, window washers, painters, baby-sitters. Children often tell me July 4th is their favorite day of the year.