Fred Hilton: Financial Advisor and Pyrotechnician
This year the City of Alachua hosted their 18th Annual Fourth of July Celebration. They have dubbed the event as “The Largest Small Town Fireworks Display in America.” Approximately 10,000 people gather at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex and an estimated 20,000+ additional spectators take a seat in surrounding parking lots and neighborhoods to experience the fireworks display.
Most are unaware that this event all started with a neighborhood birthday party in 1993.
Fred Hilton, Financial Advisor with CAMPUS Investment Services, is known by many for his quick wit, kindness, and ability to tell a really good story. He is also one of the founders of the epic fireworks display in Alachua. Every year since 1993 he has spent his birthday (July 2) preparing for the 4th of July.
1993 – Fred and his neighbor Chuck Gork, whose birthday falls on July 3, decided to throw themselves a birthday party. They drove to Tennessee to purchase all the fireworks they would need to really impress their guests. They hosted about 100 people that year – they enjoyed music, a bounce house, food and drinks, and of course fireworks.
They continued this tradition year after year, and every year their party grew larger. More guests and even more activities were added. By the fourth year, Fred invited City of Alachua Law Enforcement to eat, have fun and in exchange provide ‘crowd control’ for the hundreds of people in attendance.
1999 – Fred was so proud that his hometown party really grew into something special. That year he invited the City Commissioner and the Mayor. The activities included a 14-foot waterslide, bounce house, snow cone machine, popcorn machine, live entertainment, food and drinks. About 250 people came out to have fun and of course…stick around for the fireworks at the end of the night.
The Mayor and Commissioner loved it so much, they asked Fred if he would start doing the fireworks display for the City of Alachua. Fred and Chuck were spending about $3,000 on fireworks each year and the thought of having someone else �foot the bill – it was certainly worth entertaining the idea. But, Fred did not want to stop having his party so he agreed to do the Millennium Show that year. They rang in the year 2000 with a BOOM! But, Fred really didn’t like the idea of staying up past midnight every year doing fireworks, so he agreed to do a 4th of July display.
2000 – The City of Alachua hosted their first Fourth of July Celebration at Skinner Field. Fred and Chuck had enlisted four or five more people to help with the fireworks. Fred found a distributor of professional grade fireworks and fortunately the family business from which he bought the explosives also offered a lot of tips and advice. Even as a Licensed Pyrotechnician, Fred and his team had a lot to learn!
The fun continued - They hosted their neighborhood party for many years; but, as the city fireworks display grew each year, so did the amount of prep-work. The last year they threw the party, Fred had to leave early to get to work on the city fireworks. He knew the party just couldn’t go on next year. Fred remarked, “It stopped being fun! We had too much to do before the fireworks show. So, we don’t have the party anymore...2003 was the last year.”
The “The Largest Small Town Fireworks Display in America” was once listed on Mashable as one of the best places to watch fireworks for the Fourth of July. The ‘Detonators’ a team of eight men, four of which are Licensed Pyrotechnicians, run the whole show from setting up, detonating, running safety precautions and finally cleaning up. The grand finale boasts 300 shots and it takes two people to run the detonator and call the shots.
Fred has been a Financial Advisor at CAMPUS Investment Services for 18 years. He has been married to his wife, Nancy, for twenty-eight years. Nancy was pregnant with their first child, Victoria (23), at Fred’s first party. Fred and Nancy’s five children, Victoria (23), Pierson (21), Christina (19), Olivia (16) and Turner (13), have never known a Fourth of July without a celebration!
- The family business Fred purchases the fireworks from every year also distributes to Disney, Sea World and Daytona 500 - just to name a few.
- People have stopped on the side of the road on I-75 because they have seen the show while driving through Alachua.
- The City of Alachua budgets $35,000 every year for the celebration.
- All other money comes from sponsorships - The Celebration costs approx. $55,000-$60,000.
- Fred has not had a relaxing Fourth of July for 24 years!
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By Campus USA at 13 Jul 2017, 11:50 AM