Volunteers invigorate town, create Redneck in Ramona
“We all have fire in us,” Jessica Gilbert said. “Anytime you have an idea and other people join in it’s beautiful.”
Gilbert and her sister Pat Wick have been organizing Ramona’s Fourth of July Celebration since 1998. Some years, Gilbert wishes she could just walk away and let someone else plan the event, starting in January.
Whenever the planning starts to feel mired and fruitless, one of the event’s volunteers will embolden Gilbert to keep going.
Thursday, Gilbert got a call from Ramona’s postmaster, Kathy Matkins. Matkins asked whether there was anything she could do to help, with no conditions attached. She already was being counted upon to provide an ice cream stand during the middle of the day.
Matkins is one of the key organizers for the event, along with Art Stroda and Byron and Julie Noeth.
“If somebody on our team walked away, we’d have a huge hole,” Gilbert said.
The contributions are both big and small. For the event’s first fireworks shoot in 1998, Connie Smith volunteered her field. This year, new resident James Miner is donating a field for parking.
For this year’s Redneck in Ramona, six local businesses donated at least $300. The event usually generates $4,000 worth of donations to put toward events, Gilbert said.
Stroda and Brian Haden created one of the celebration’s longest-running events, lawnmower obstacle course. Recently Mike’s Mowers of Hope has been providing prizes for winners.
Lisa Hanschu started the James Weber Memorial Basketball tournament in 2010 after her son died in a car accident in 2009.
“It’s a continuing reminder of a young person’s life,” Gilbert said.
Deines Farms started a kids’ tractor pull. Junior Hanschu later chose to provide prizes, including free snow cones for all participants.
Julie Noeth started the Redneck Run in 2007, first with a two-mile race before adding a 10K competition. The first year of the run, about 30 competed. This year Noeth expects about 80, including some from Onaga. Eighty people is about half the population of Ramona. Although the U.S. census listed Ramona’s population at 180, Gilbert said it’s more like 140.
“If you count a few dogs and cats,” she said.
The Redneck Run has provided the entire celebration’s moniker. The name immediately elicited a chuckle from Gilbert inspiring the name Redneck in Ramona.
That, of course, led to creativity among residents. The Noeths had a redneck yoga float one year, featuring participants in all types of unfortunate prone positions after a few too many Bud Lights. Other floats include redneck GPS, redneck half Christmas, and a redneck yard with paper grass covering a docked automobile.
The parade has come a long way from the few simple floats from that first Fourth of July in 1998.
“You’d have to go around the block twice to get a 15-minute parade,” Gilbert said.
Some residents have thought the redneck theme to be uncouth, unrepresentative of the town. Gilbert is determined to keep it going as long as people continue to have fun with the concept.
There has been a flurry of dissension about the celebration since its origins. This mirrors Gilbert and Wick’s up-and-down relationship with the town itself.
The sisters moved to Ramona full-time in 2000 from Napa Valley in California. Gilbert said the small town provided a stark contrast to consulting work she performed in Sacramento.
“There you see people gripping the steering wheel in rush hour traffic. I wanted to get away from that,” Gilbert said. “We find it very idyllic. I love the people and the place.”
But there was a difference between visiting a place and living there. Gilbert compared it to the difference between dating and marriage.
When Gilbert visited town, she was like a new couple who could talk for hours, never running out of things to say.
“I had this vision,” she said. “Like we’d all get together and sing ‘Kumbaya.’
“There are a lot of individuals in this town. I’m an individual; I’m not really a joiner, but I started this and I think it’s pretty cool.”
Redneck in Ramona is Gilbert’s romantic anniversary, the event that reinvigorates her relationship with the town.
It’s the effort of those volunteers that provide the boost.
“It’s like a recipe. Everybody puts in their own spice,” Gilbert said. “There is a camaraderie that is euphoric.”