What started out as a little backyard celebration just outside the village of Fletcher in Miami County nearly 20 years ago has evolved into an event that everyone can enjoy.
Mike and Cheryl Elsner, Pioneer Electric Cooperative members and owners of Progress Farms near Piqua, welcome thousands of their closest friends, neighbors, and relatives to their home on the third Saturday in July every year for fireworks and fellowship. This year’s event will take place on July 16.
Even their “humble” beginning wasn’t all that insignificant; the event drew between 100 and 150 agricultural business contacts, family, friends, and neighbors. But now, the event has grown to several thousand in attendance — and that doesn’t even include those who watch the show from neighboring private parties or from safe parking spots nearby.
“Ultimately, we do this to make people happy, especially those in our community,” Mike says. “You don’t do this for the money — you do this because you want to make those people happy. That, to me, is the challenge.”
The job of making attendees happy goes beyond just the fireworks show. In addition, Cheryl helps to decorate and prepare yard games and activities and supplies guests with red, white, and blue glow-necklaces, balloons, popcorn, cotton candy, and more.
“The actual fireworks show lasts anywhere from 18 to 25 minutes,” Mike says. “We do have a prelude of events leading up to the start of the fireworks show, which includes videos and a thank-you tribute to our armed forces and service personnel.”
Before the pandemic, attendees were invited for a backyard barbeque; the Elsners grilled more than 400 pounds of meat for more than 800 guests, and every family attending was encouraged to bring a carry-in side item to share.
This year, Fletcher Fire and Rescue is selling tickets for individually boxed meals for those attending the Elsner event. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased ahead of the event, and all proceeds from the meals directly benefit the fire department. Families wishing to pack their own meals are also welcome to do so.
Although the Elsners are first and foremost farmers, for the past 14 years, Mike has also worked for Ohio-based fireworks companies. For the Elsners, Mike’s side gig allows them to continue to put on their “little” backyard firework event that started 20 years ago.
Mike currently works for American Fireworks, a family-owned and operated fireworks company in Hudson, Ohio. When Mike started with American Fireworks in 2017, he helped with eight shows in his first year. Last year, he assisted with 60 shows throughout Miami and Montgomery counties.
“I just can’t say enough about that company,” he says. “American Fireworks has been a huge supporter of me and this event.”
To put on a show like the Elsners do requires licensed and certified professionals, as well as a number of volunteers. The Elsners work with the state fire marshal, Miami County law enforcement, St. Paris and Fletcher fire departments, and American Fireworks personnel to ensure the show runs smoothly. All these individuals help with planning and preparation for the event. On the evening of the show, there are 10 licensed pyrotechnic shooters, 20 to 25 pyrotechnic assistants, and fire department personnel on-site.
Mike also works with the Fletcher Fire Department to complete necessary safety training for American Fireworks employees, event volunteers, and fire department personnel needing additional recertification hours.
“We have always stressed that our desire and objective is to have a safe, family-oriented function for all attendees to enjoy,” says Mike. “Over the years we have maintained that objective.”
The display has become larger and more technological since its early days as well. There are at least 100 people involved in the setup prior to the evening of the show, and most volunteer their time and talent to make the event possible.
Some of the Elsners’ best memories from the past 20 years involve reactions of children.
“One night there was a little boy whose dad brought him up — he was about 7 years old — and his dad said, ‘This is the man who does the fireworks,’” says Mike. “The boy looked at me and said, ‘You’re the best fireworking man I’ve ever seen.’ And I’ll never forget that line or the smile on the boy’s face for as long as I live.”
The Elsners say the best part of doing the show is the people who help make it a success.
“The people who attend, support, and enjoy the evening and keep it a positive experience increase our drive to repeat it another year,” Mike says. “We appreciate the people who attend and help keep it a safe, fun evening.”
The Elsners are rightfully proud of the annual event and its growth, but know it would not be possible without the overwhelming support of numerous volunteers and their community.
“Our intention,” Mike says, “was and continues to be to come together and enjoy an evening of celebration with those who share our appreciation of our independence and our God-given right to live in the freedom of the United States of America.”