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Santee Independence Day celebration reflects community’s Small-Town USA feel

Marines from MCAS Miramar's HMH 462 presented the colors for the 2014 Santee Salutes July 4th celebration
Marines from MCAS Miramar's HMH 462 presented the colors for the 2014 Santee Salutes July 4th celebration
Stephen Prendergast

While some communities try each year to make their Independence Day celebrations bigger than the year before – or than that of neighboring communities – the annual Santee Salutes July 4th celebration reflects what many call the city’s “Small-Town USA” feel. Once again the event took place at the Town Center Community Park, with music, food, games and rides and fireworks. The community comes together to celebrate as one big family, with an estimated 12,000+ members during the fireworks.

A color guard from MCAS Miramar presents the flag at Santee Salutes July 4th
Stephen Prendergast

“Santee Salutes will have 14,000 people watching the fireworks here in Town Center,” Mayor Randy Voepel predicted shortly before a special Patriotic Ceremony that featured a color guard from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar. “We’ll have no fights, no drunks, and then when everyone leaves there will be no litter. Can’t get any better than that.”

True to the mayor’s prediction, the day proved to be an enjoyable time with no serious incidents reported. Long before the official 3:30 p.m. start, families began setting up around the stage where the Opening and Patriotic Ceremonies would take place. Once again the city rented out canopy spaces for groups, which included preferred parking in the adjoining parking lot. However, most families simply chose to toss out a blanket, set up a few camp chairs, and enjoy a day that was just the perfect temperature – not too hot with a hint of breeze.

Santee holds the distinction of being the only city in San Diego County to have adopted local military units – Heavy Marine Helicopter (HMH) 462, the “Heavy Haulers,” from MCAS Miramar and the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines from Camp Pendleton. Colonel John Farnham, Commanding Officer of MCAS Miramar, and is wife Cathy Jean Farnham were guest of honor, and Col. Farnham shared some thoughts about the day during the Opening Ceremonies.

“There are a lot of great cities around Miramar,” Col. Farnham said later as he visited with local dignitaries, “and it’s all their actions that matter to me – how do they support the nation – and in this case Santee has supported by adopting HMH 462 and the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines as well. That says a lot about your city, the commitment to your nation and your Marine Corps, and we really value that.”

One of those dignitaries attending Santee Salutes was California Assemblymember Brian Jones, who brought his family out for the day. Known for his “Are You Kidding Me?” video clips detailing the mistakes he sees in the Legislature, Jones was in a much more mellow mood.

“My oldest son, who is 19, has been bouncing off the walls for the last two weeks because this is his favorite event of the entire year – and actually my entire family,” Jones said. “We all love Santee Salutes because this is small-town, real American appreciating the flag and what it stands for, appreciating our military folks who come out here as part of the event – and we really appreciate the city hosting them and making them a big part of it. It’s just a great time. We get to enjoy our freedoms with 10,000 of my closest friends out here.”

Those “friends” were treated to an assortment of games and rides, a selection of about a half dozen eclectic food trucks, and music from perennial favorites the 80z All Stars – and their alter ego Just Press Play. By the end of the night the dance area in front of the stage was a mass of fans rocking out to some of the greatest songs of the 1980s.

What sets Santee Salutes apart from many other Fourth of July celebrations, though, is that “small-town” feel that the community prides itself on. Over and over guests, dignitaries and performers mentioned how much that means to be a part of that feeling.

“You know what I love about this place is when you look at the United States, you look at America and what it’s all about, you see that here,” said Col. Farnham. “And I’m not just saying that; you see it. The citizens of the city have come out. The mayor, Mayor Voepel, I think is just about as American as you can get. To be asked out to be part of this crowd is a very big deal.

“Santee Salutes every year is just the pinnacle of what we do in Santee,” concluded Santee Vice Mayor Rob McNelis. “This is Small Town U.S.A., in essence. Families just being together, supporting each other, being a family unit in an open atmosphere. Just a lot of fun. That’s what Santee is all about.”

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