For any reasonable person, the Fourth of July workload Randy Wilson kept up for a decade seems implausible.
Starting at the crack of dawn with the Flagstaff 4 on the Fourth, Randy's day moved on to the annual 4th of July Parade through downtown. After the hectic morning concluded, Randy would work into the night to put a paper on the newsstands for July 5th.
Now for the first time, we coordinated this year's Fourth of July coverage without the lead of Randy.
Working through the abundance of the holiday's duties, it felt as though no day of the year better exemplified his love for and commitment to the Flagstaff community than the Fourth of July. And with a record number of participants for this year's 4 on the Fourth, the community did well to honor him for his years of giving.
Randy’s previously mentioned July 4th itinerary seemed impossible for just one of us to attempt this year, so managing editor Chris Etling and associate editor Cody Bashore split up Randy’s old responsibilities. With Chris taking over Randy's job title, the parade would be where he was needed. And while a fantastic group of volunteers organized the morning's race, Cody knew where he could best fill in.
Cody: 4 on the Fourth
For quite some time since Randy’s passing, I planned to cover Thursday’s race in any way needed. The day could not have started off better, as a record number of runners sought a spot in the 11th annual 4 on the Fourth as I arrived at the Thorpe Park flagpole Thursday morning.
Now called the Randy Wilson Memorial Flagstaff 4 on the Fourth to honor its creator, Neil Weintraub and Randy’s daughter Caroline led the way to continuing on the tradition without a hitch, even adding custom race bibs for this year. Additionally, a group of other volunteers including Jack Welch, Donald Carter, Ken Lamm, David Blanchard and Randy’s wife Lindsay aided with the run in various ways throughout the morning.
This year was a first for me, as I’d never attended the run in past years.
For my four years working the holiday as Sports Editor, Randy never could convince me to suffer through the four-mile trek (a mediocre sprinter during my most athletic stage in life, I’d never survive running the distance now). And naturally Randy took care of the photo and story coverage himself, so my actual skills were never needed.
With everything covered to carry on the legacy of the holiday's morning run, I landed the duty of replicating Randy's coverage of his beloved event the best I could.
Truthfully, it’s a simple gesture to honor a man who took a chance five and a half years ago. Hiring me while I was still in the middle of my senior year at Northern Arizona University, Randy offered an invaluable opportunity to a student worrying about a job upon graduation.
And while I’ve absolutely had tougher assignments during my tenure at the paper -- ones often needing Randy's guidance and expertise -- rarely have I been as nervous to produce quality work than I was Thursday morning.
A simple story and a few photos can't equate to someone allowing you to follow your dream. Truthfully, any amount of work through the years is unlikely to repay such a gesture.
But I came away from Thursday feeling lucky to have had the opportunity to document the community's support for Randy, as well as witness a group of incredible individuals commitment to keeping with his tradition.
Chris: 4th of July Parade
I didn't have a lot of experience with the setup for the parade, because I occasionally tried to fill in for Randy during the evening stretch, knowing how busy the start of his 4th had been. So there were a lot of question marks going in to this year's rendition.
Thanks to the planning efforts from the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, the parade runs like a relatively well-oiled machine. Once we arranged for a vehicle and picked up our float number, the only uncertain parts were how to decorate the "float" and how to make the timing work.
The citizens and organization of the year were the stars of the show in more ways than one. Lina Wallen and the aforementioned Ken Lamm took the time to help with decorations even though they had several other organizations they could have walked the parade route with, and Cassandra and Melissa from Willow Bend rolled up their sleeves on preparation as well. Half-awake from putting the paper to bed around midnight, we had a halfway decent float before I knew it.
Driving that vehicle was a harrowing but rewarding experience. The parade turnout was phenomenal, with folks lining the street 10-12 deep in some spots along the route. It was a reminder of Flagstaff's small-town charm even as the city continues to expand.
In conversations leading up to the parade (and on the day itself), I talked to dozens of people who remembered Randy's strong commitment to the parade in years past. Like our efforts to continue the citizens and organizations of the year program, I'm not sure we ever really considered skipping the parade. Filling in for Randy dredges up memories that are happy and sad at the same time, but worth it in so many ways.
Playing any part in continuing Randy's legacy is not something we or anyone at the Daily Sun take lightly. Somehow we are now 365 days through his loss, with his absence maybe never quite as prevalent as July 4th.