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Festival sponsorship irks veterans

Veterans groups are angry that Coeur d’Alene’s Independence Day celebration this year will be named for a corporate sponsor, Black Rock Development, one of the area’s largest developers.

Now some veterans are pondering whether to march in the parade, a highlight of the Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce’s Black Rock Fourth of July Festival. The celebration includes the American Heroes Parade, concerts in the park and a fireworks display over Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“Independence Day is not for sale,” said Dusty Rhoads, president of the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 673 in Coeur d’Alene. He’s also a member of the Marine Corps League.

The ruckus began Thursday when Pappy Boyington Detachment 966 of the Marine Corps League saw the Black Rock name on a flier for the festival.

“It was right across the top in great big, black, flaring letters,” said Robert Rohrscheib, the detachment’s commandant.

That sparked an hourlong debate and motions calling for a parade boycott. When the meeting ended, the detachment voted to march in the parade after all. But some members want to carry a banner that reminds spectators that it’s a celebration of Independence Day, not the date on the calendar, fireworks or sponsors.

The veterans say it’s not so much a problem with Black Rock; rather, it’s the absence of “Independence Day” in the title.

“Independence Day, that’s the celebration,” Rohrscheib said. “It’s not the Fourth of July. That’s just the date.”

The uproar has left Jonathan Coe, the chamber’s executive director, dumbfounded and Black Rock Development owner Marshall Chesrown questioning contributions to such events.

“I’m very seldom at a loss for words,” Chesrown said Monday. “We thought we were doing something in the best interest of the community. We certainly won’t do it again if it’s offensive.”

Chesrown, who developed the area’s first exclusive waterfront golf retreat, the Club at Black Rock, donated $10,000 to the chamber for the July festival. The event has been underwritten for years, by sponsors such as Tom Addis Dodge and D.A. Davidson. Most recently it was sponsored by First Bank, and fliers proclaimed “First Bank Fourth of July Festival,” Coe said.

First Bank was sold and the new owner discontinued the sponsorship, Coe said. That’s when Black Rock stepped in.

Without the sponsorship, the chamber could never put on the largest Independence Day celebration in the Inland Northwest, Coe said. The event draws 30,000 spectators to downtown Coeur d’Alene.

“The chamber does things that most people think just happen,” Coe said. “This is how it comes together. We get underwriters to help sponsor it.”

Coe said local veterans groups aren’t large donors to the festival, although some may give to the fireworks fund.

He thinks the commotion has more to do with how Kootenai County is dealing with fast growth. And Black Rock Development’s name was the trigger.

“That’s all I can think, quite frankly,” he said.

Rhoads said he was unaware of the annual underwriters and that he has a problem with any sponsorship – First Bank, Black Rock or otherwise.

“It’s that the Independence Day parade shouldn’t be sold,” he said.

Rohrscheib takes a little different stance. He knew the festival has sponsors, but he questions why Black Rock is prominent in the title and not listed below with the other donors.

Coldwell Banker is sponsoring the parade this year, just as it has done for years, and its name is lower and smaller on the flier.

Duane Hagadone of the Coeur d’Alene Resort also is a supporter of the fireworks, and his newspaper, the Coeur d’Alene Press, publishes photos of major donors to a fund to help pay for the fireworks show, Coe said.

Chesrown noted that Hagadone, also a developer, hasn’t been chastised for his contribution.

Josh Callihan, chairman of the Kootenai County Veterans Council and a Marine, attended Thursday’s meeting and was surprised by the controversy.

“Obviously the function takes more than local donations” to be as big as it is, Callihan said.

Yet he said he understands that the groups don’t like the commercialization of so much in America, from sports stadiums to small-town parades.

He expects the issue to come up at the veterans council’s June meeting, and he plans to urge everyone to march in the parade regardless of their feelings about sponsorship.