For the last 19 years, residents in Princeton have enjoyed fireworks on the week of July 4. But now after all these years the annual fireworks, funded by private donors, have come to an end.
“This year heartbreaking to say after 19 years of having the fireworks we have to cut it out because it was draining our funds down,” said Ray Wadsworth if the Spirit of Princeton. “You have to make a cut somewhere when you don’t have the money.”
Wadsworth said Princeton University alumnus and local resident Herb Hobler has raised money from “big donor “classmates in the past to support the Spirit of Princeton’s activities.
A survey of donors was conducted about whether the Spirit of Princeton should have fireworks of not. The cost is almost $20,000 annually.
“That’s a lot of money to be pulling out of the endowment,” Wadsworth said. “The survey came back and they put down their answer — why do you have to have the fireworks after we have our Princeton University reunions? The university puts on about $45,000 worth of fireworks for their reunions. So we looked at it and we said we would cut out the fireworks.”
The Spirit of Princeton coordinates other activities like the town’s Memorial Day Parade and Veterans’ Day ceremony.
“It was heartbreaking (to eliminate the fireworks) but I want to see this thing go on when I leave this planet,” Wadsworth said of the other activities.
Wadsworth said he began raising money for the fireworks two decades ago by putting coffee cans out in downtown stores that solicited donations.
“Herb Hobler came and said he would like to help out. He worked with us, raised a lot of money from his classmates at the University, and we went to Council and created a program where people could get bricks named on a walkway on Palmer Square,” he said.
The Spirit of Princeton raised about $300,000 and placed it in an endowment.
“It Wasn’t too long after that, that the recession came in,” he said. “We had money in the endowment but then everything went down. We thought we could live off of that interest and pull out a few pennies here and there. Well that didn’t come true.”
Wadsworth said the Spirit of Princeton is still looking to bring the endowment back up to where it was. Princeton University has donated $10,000.
Councilwoman Jo Butler asked why the Spirit of Princeton doesn’t seek out businesses and other sponsors to underwrite the fireworks.
“We can’t do that after telling the big donors from Princeton University that we won’t have them,” Wadsworth said. “Some of them are putting in big money.”
Butler questioned why sponsors can’t underwrite individual events.
“Why would big donors care if someone comes along and say they’ll pay for it?” Wadsworth said any money donated to the organization must go into the endowment and can’t be earmarked for a specific event.
“They can’t say they’ll give money just for the parade,” he said. “No one can underwrite a specific event.”