Fourth of July, a tradition for Ludington families

July 3, 2014
The Filter-Smith family.

The Filter-Smith family.

LUDINGTON – There is no question that the Fourth of July is Ludington’s biggest day of the year, bringing in thousands of tourists to celebrate with locals on the nation’s birthday. Many area residents have Fourth of July traditions that stem back decades and Mason County Press Senior Correspondent Kate Krieger met up with three different families who take their Fourth of July traditions pretty seriously.

Dennis and Lucy Lavis

Denny and Lucy Lavis

Denny and Lucy Lavis, have been celebrating the Fourth in the same location since they purchased their Ludington Avenue home in 1991. They bought the house from John Latocha and they didn’t realize at the time how significant the Fourth of July was to their home. Denny recalls the first year they lived in the house, watching the parade and at the end the Scottville Clown Band stopping out front, turning towards the house and playing “Little Brown Jug.”

“John (Latocha) would invite the Clown Band back to his house,” Denny said. “This was the first and only time the band did that after they learned John didn’t live here anymore.”

With or without the Clown Band serenade, Denny and Lucy continued to grow their Fourth of July tradition by adding patriotic music, food and even a festive train on their front lawn for people to enjoy.

“We have people come up and thank us for playing the music,” Denny said. “Some said they would come back every year in front of the house because of the music.”

As their family members started to make new traditions or pass away, Denny and Lucy started inviting friends from their winter home of Texas and Lucy said that their was one friend in particular who changed their Fourth of July tradition forever.

“Al Prather, one of our friends from Nebraska and Texas came up one year,” Lucy said. “He was a driver for this one star general named, Norman Schwarzkopf.”

Lucy stated that Al came from a pretty difficult upbringing as a child and was in and out of the foster care system and then when he was old enough, he enlisted in the Army and really appreciated the security and discipline the Army offered him. Al had a Jeep that he kept in tip-top shape, Lucy stated and Schwarzkopf took notice of Al and the Jeep and asked him if he would be his driver.

Jack Bulger

Jack Bulger

“Al took care of Norm and Norm took care of Al,” Lucy said. “Norman even asked Al to go with him to Belgium to be his driver, but Al declined, but when Al retired from the Army, Norman sent him a letter of retirement and a signed picture.”

Lucy remembers one year when Al was up visiting and he saw her father’s American flag in a viewing case in her home.

“He saw dad’s flag and said, ‘You really should fly that,’” Lucy said. “Al was an honor guard so he knew how to fold and fly the flag.”

Lucy said that since that Fourth of July, they fly her father’s flag on Denny’s father’s flag pole in their yard to honor all the men and women they have known who have served in the United States military.

“I never would have gotten it out without Al saying to fly it,” she said.

Denny and Lucy have been asked many times to participate in the Fourth of July parade, but they always decline because they do not want to give up their own tradition and sharing that tradition with many other families who have came to enjoy it so much.

“It’s all really neat,” Lucy said. “It’s our tradition.”

Right next door to Denny and Lucy reside Jack and Janet Bulger and they, too have a long-standing Fourth of July tradition that stretches back about 80 years. They moved into their home in 1981, after purchasing it from Janet’s grandparents, the Wadels. Jack said that the Wadels had owned the home since 1934 and he can remember visiting since the 1960s and having the Fourth of July be a very celebrated day at the home.

“We are right on the parade route,” he said. “It was the family obligation to host the parade party.”

Jack said that every year since they have been in the house, the family has continued the tradition of hosting a large parade party, with no shortage of good food and drink.

“If you look at the pictures, the only thing you can really tell that changed from one year to the next is how old the kids are and maybe some of the ages of the cars,” Jack said. “It really looks like the same parade and the same people. We basically have the same people here every year.”

Jack, too can remember the Scottville Clown Band playing at his next door neighbor’s home.

“John Latocha would put on quite the spread,” Jack Said. “The Clown Band would always come and play next door. It was a great time.”

One other tradition that that Bulger and Lavis families share is their “not-so-great” love for the University of Michigan and every year when the U of M bus drives past in the parade, Denny Lavis will cue up the Michigan State fight song and the two parties will join in to sing to try and overcome the sounds coming from the U of M bus and opposing fans.

“A lot of our attendees have MSU ties,” Jack said. “They will all join in when U of m comes by.”

Five generations of Bulger and Wadels have been celebrating the Fourth of July together on Jack’s front lawn and they will continue to celebrate in the coming years.

“Generally we have a lot of out of town kids and grandkids coming,” Jack said. “It’s probably about five to six different families and other people we have invited over the years.”

Between the two homes during the parade, there are over 200 onlookers who plant their chairs and blankets near the curb to enjoy the annual Ludington Area Jaycees’ Freedom Festival Grand Parade.

As the parade continues past the Lavis’ and Bulger’s and makes it way to the end of its route, the Filter family celebrates in a home that has been family owned for 50 years.

Hal and Susan Filter, along with many relatives and friends, celebrate the Fourth of July each year at their home at the corner of Court Street and Lakeshore Drive, across from Stearn’s Park. The family tradition there goes back generations. The house was once home to Susan’s grandparents, Harold and Alice Gibbs. It then belonged to her parents as well.

“We have had four generations celebrate here,” Susan said. “My mom’s cousins all came from all over Michigan to celebrate the Fourth here.”

This year, Susan’s sister Amy Smith-Bennett and her son Samuel drove over 2,400 miles, leaving San Diego, California and making the four day trek to Ludington to celebrate the Fourth of July with the family.

“We usually fly,” Amy said. “Samuel didn’t have a sport going on so this year we decided to drive instead.”

Because of the location of the Filter’s home, they can basically celebrate the entire day from their own front lawn. They watch the parade and the fireworks from their yard and they host a cookout and their annual “Toast at 10” at the home as well.

“Toast at 10 is usually for about 45 people,” Susan said. “It started as being held the day after the Fourth as one more opportunity to eat together before everyone left, but we now host it on the Fourth.”

This year, relatives will be traveling from Maryland, Colorado and California, as well as around Michigan, to attend to Fourth of July festivities at the Filter’s home.

“If I’m not here, I won’t go to the fireworks,” Amy said. “It’s our family tradition. It’s like a yearly reunion.”

This year’s Ludington Area Jaycees’ Freedom Festival celebration will include the Children and Pet Parade at 5:30 p.m., today at the Waterfront Park Amphitheatre. The Grand Parade will be held at 2 p.m., July 4, along Ludington Avenue from Madison Street to Lakeshore Drive and the fireworks will start at dusk, July 4 over the downtown harbor. For more information about any Fourth of July event, visit or call 231-233-0230.


Eats & Drinks

Eats & Drinks