Lake of the Pines: Independence Day celebration a blast at LOP |

Lake of the Pines: Independence Day celebration a blast at LOP

A small army of Pinesmen was on hand Wednesday to facilitate activities at the annual Lake of the Pines Independence Day celebration.

Once again, the event was a huge success. Many of the Pinesmen exhibited their bravado by taking a turn in front of the sizzling grill, flipping burgers in the 100-degree-plus weather. Jim Volek volunteered for the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. shift, by far the hottest part of the afternoon.

The heat didn’t keep many people away: The game and food area and the main beach and pool were packed. Those in attendance could find refuge at the craft fair located inside the air-conditioned clubhouse. My son, James, cooled off with a short stint in the dunking booth. There was also a vintage car and decorated golf cart parade, a watermelon eating contest, a cakewalk and even an information booth, where LOP board members answered questions regarding LOP facilities renovation.

Newly re-elected director Larry Couture answered a few questions I had regarding the proposals and suggested the LOP members will be able to vote on the issue in September. A questionnaire was available at the booth, and Larry stated the board would use the responses to “fine tune” the plan’s options.

The booth was a definite communication boost, although most will agree not the highlight of the day. As always, it was the fireworks display that attracted the most attention. As fireworks shells were being loaded into the firing tubes, I was able to sit near the dam with a very special LOP guest, Udell Smith, and talk with her regarding her family’s role in the Pinesmen’s summer celebration.

For the past 10 years, Udell and her husband LeRoy have been renting a truck, loading it with explosives which they store at a rented McClennan Air Force Base munitions bunker, and carefully driving it into Lake of the Pines for the Fourth of July. The Smiths work with Pyro Spectaculars to bring us the fiery show.

Although LeRoy Smith was not present for the first Independence Day fireworks display in 1777, he has been around a few years. He worked his first show in 1956 and became a fully licensed operator in 1963. It has become more difficult to obtain a license since September 11, Udell told me. There is a longer test for the operator, and extensive background checks for all crew members.

The couple’s fee for orchestrating the show is 10 percent of the cost of the pyrotechnics, not enough to make much profit, Udell said. By the time they pay for expenses — mainly the cost of feeding their mostly volunteer crew – there is little left. After doing several shows last year, their total profit was less than $50.

I asked Udell why she and her family toil in the hot July sun to bring us the display. She told me that they do it because it is “fun.”

Udell and LeRoy have always made their business a family affair. They started the fireworks as entertainment for a family reunion, and still take pleasure in the all-day fireworks preparations. Wednesday night, the Smiths loaded and fired close to 400 fireworks shells during the 20-minute presentation.


Laura Lavelle’s column lets Lake of the Pines area residents share thoughts and information. Contact her at or leave a message with the Readership Editor at 477-4238.

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