Founders’ Day a No-Go

COVID-19 concerns cancel annual event

Founders’ Day, a tradition that has been part of the fabric of Zephyrhills since as early as 1926, has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.

The event that celebrates the city’s incorporation, was set to recognize the 111th birthday of Zephyrhills on March 6, but COVID-19 has forced the city to cancel the 2021 annual parade and day-long celebration on Fifth Avenue.

According to Main Street Zephyrhills Event Coordinator Paxton McCullough, it has been determined by the city to continue its moratorium on issuing public event permits because of the risk of spreading COVID-19. The 2020 Founder’s Day parade and celebration was the last public event held by Main Street since the pandemic started.

“We’re not able to get a permit from the city for an event on public property at this time,” McCullough said.

Zephyrhills City Councilman Lance Smith, whose family has been part of the Founders’ Day tradition for decades is saddened that the pandemic has claimed such a cherished city event.

“It is truly a shame,” Smith said. “I understand it, but it is sad. I just hate it. At this point, we’re almost to the finish line with this. It would be a shame to do something that would cause a bunch of people to get that.

“I don’t get it that it hasn’t been announced yet. It should be out there.”

Smith said the desire to return to normalcy could have had a positive effect of the attendance of the Founders’ Day parade and celebration, but the city needs to take the responsible route in this decision.

“It might have been way more attended this year if we were able to have it,” Smith said.

According to Zephyrhills historian Madonna Wise, Founders’ Day started out in 1926 as Homecoming Day in Zephyrhills and held at Zephyr Park. Through the decades, the event morphed into the event it has become today.

Wise documented that the 1927 “Homecoming Day” featured a Miss Zephyrhills contest where the winner was voted on during the event with Miss Lucile Ryals, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Will Ryals, named the winner.

Council woman Jodi Wilkeson said the Main Street Board of Directors are struggling to understand what the template needs to be for Pasco County and other leadership to feel comfortable with allowing residents to resume life as normal.

“The truth is that there are tremendous numbers of folks becoming ill every day,” Wilkeson said. “You can look at the updates on a daily basis. While we have a fairly low fatality rate, people are still getting ill and they could potentially bring it back to their loved ones.”

Wilkeson said creativity could be the key to bring events back to Zephyrhills.

“We need to keep looking outside the box for opportunities to make those events safe,” Wilkeson said. “Every Main Street events have to evolve with the new normal.”

McCullough said that while Founders’ Day is off the calendar, Main Street will direct its focus on its 7th Street mural project and membership recruitment.

“We have to look forward to the things we are able to do,” McCullough said. “You can’t spend too much time wallowing in what you can’t do. You have to focus on what you can do until you can have events.”

The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce Pigz n Z’Hills BBQ and Blues Festival will go on as a special event, but under a strong controlled environment that will feature a drive through event for the BBQ and will regulate attendance through special section ticketed seating for the blues concert.

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