History of the Erath 4th of July
Erath started celebrating the Erath 4th of July Celebration in 1936. The festival was founded by Roy R. Theriot and originated as a fundraiser for Erath High School. In 1937, the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper published an article about the Erath Independence Day Fete. The article stated that the event was sponsored jointly by the Erath 4th of July Association and the Erath High School Alumni Association. Roy Theriot was the general manager of the celebration, and all money earned benefited Erath High School. (A 1938 article was also published). A June 11, 1939 New Orleans Times Picayune article announced that Edward Landry had been named general chairman of the Erath 4th of July Celebration. The celebration was described as one of Louisiana’s major Fourth of July Celebrations, and included a street fair, parade, speakers, and a dance at the Erath High School Auditorium.
The celebration continued during World War II under the direction of Edward Landry and the Erath Lions Club. In 1946, returning veteran Roy Theriot began serving as the President and Curney Dronet as the Parade Chairman. Theriot and Dronet worked in conjunction with the Erath Lions Club and the Erath American Legion to plan the festival.
Throughout the late 1940’s and 1950’s, the festival was run by the area merchants as a way to promote Erath, and thereby bring more business to Erath. The Erath merchants would contribute money each year to stage the festival. Several Erath residents that were instrumental in the early success of the festival included: B.J. Gary, Marion Boudreaux, Johnny Suire, Edward Suire, K.A. Bolner, J.P. Landry, Leo Bernard, Sulie Dubois, Emmett Bares, J.D. Vincent, Inez LeBlanc Vincent, Neuby LeBlanc, Fred Dugas, Wilton “Belu” Sonnier, Lee Bernard, and Curney Dronet.
In the early 1962, Dr. Leroy Suire and his wife, Elvie, along with Richard Dubois, Wilton “Belu” Sonnier, and Eddie Shiner took over the operation of the festival. John Earl LeBlanc was elected President around 1964, and served for several years. Les Travailleuses took over the organization of the Erath 4th of July Celebration in 1972. This local women’s organization ran the festival until 1975.
Two people that played an integral part in the Erath 4th of July Celebration throughout the years were Richard Dubois and Relie LeBlanc. Both men were involved in the organization, off and on, since the 1950’s. One of the events that the two men used to stage on the day of July 4th was the go kart races. South Broadway Street was closed the morning of the 4th, and all telephone poles and fire hydrants were covered with hay to protect the participants. Go kart races were then held up and down Broadway Street. Later on that day, the area fire departments would participate in the water fights. For many years, the special contests were held following the water fights. These contest included the watermelon and cracker eating contest, which are still held along with the potato relays, and the greasy pole contest, which is no longer held
The Start of The Erath 4th of July Association
In 1976, the Erath 4th of July Association was incorporated, and has been in charge of the festival ever since. The incorporators included: Eddie Shiner, Richard Dubois, Dolores Dubois, Florence Sonnier, Ernest Pillette, Mary Suire, Leonce J. Lemaire, Ulysse Menard, David Dronet, Theodore Bares, Velma Sonnier, Grace Bares, and Hilda Faulk. The original board was made up of representatives of the different local civic organizations, including: the American Legion, Baseball Park, Catholic Daughters, Erath Fire Department, Jaycees, Knights of Columbus, and Les Travailleuses. Presidents of the Erath 4th of July Association have included Richard Dubois, Bill Comeaux, Tony Boquer, Monica Granger Calvert, Norris Bouillion, Claudette Lacour, Mark Mencacci, Elwood Lacour, and Robert B. Vincent.
When the Erath 4th of July Association was incorporated in 1976, it was decided that the money raised would be used to help the Erath community. The members of the Association agreed that the Erath community was in desperate need of a community building, where receptions, meetings, and parties could be held. The Board decided that building such a building would be the first project to be financed by the money raised by the festival. It took the Association eleven years, but the Erath Community Building was opened in 1987. Flo Sonnier was the treasurer during the time that the money was raised to build the building, and ensured that no money was wasted. The Community Building continues to operate today under the direction of the Erath Community Building Association, which receives its funds from the rental of the building. However, the Erath 4th of July Association continues to finance major capital improvements to the building.
The Erath 4th of July Association made another major donation to the community in June of 2001. When Erath City Park was designed, there were to be tennis courts available for the public to use. However, there was not enough money available for the Town of Erath to construct these courts. The Board of Directors of the Association voted to build two tennis courts in the city park, and donate them to the Town of Erath for use of the public. Since being built, the tennis courts have been one of the most popular parts of the park. The courts are also utilized as the home of the Erath High School Tennis team.
The Acadian Museum in Erath has also been a major benefactor of the funds raised by the Association. The museum has received several donations from the Association to ensure the continued success of the museum. The Association also donated the flag poles in front of the Erath City Hall. The Association voted to donate funds to the Erath Backers Club for use in the construction of a baseball field for the Erath High School Baseball team. Funds were also donated for town lights in Erath, technology at Dozier Elementary and two large signs for the town of Erath. The Association also donated barricades to Dozier Elementary.