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Fourth of July Picnic celebrates love of family, community and county

By Staff | Jul 18, 2018

The Speakeasy Boys played a variety of bluegrass tunes during the 4th of July Picnic at Morgan's Grove Park. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

Shepherdstown — Many people think of the Fourth of July as a time for celebration and reflection on the value of freedom. But for some attendees of this year’s Fourth of July Picnic at Morgan’s Grove Park, it was a reminder of loved ones they had lost over the previous year.

Krissy Fraley-Mowen, of Martinsburg, came to the event with her mother, Jeannie Fraley, of Martinsburg, who said she had mixed emotions about being at the picnic.

“It’s kind of bittersweet. We weren’t able to make it last year, because my husband, Mike, was sick,” Fraley said.

Her husband passed away from cancer five months ago. She said the family’s last picture together was taken at Morgan’s Grove Park, where she and her husband had their first dance at a Fourth of July celebration, and where in recent years he would take their two grandchildren to play.

Fraley said she could feel his presence with them as they walked around the park throughout the afternoon.

Three-year-old Miakai Zahradnik pets a barn owl held by Trego Mountain Nature Center Director Dina Spanomanolis during the 4th of July Picnic. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

“He would have wanted us here. He grew up in Shepherdstown and coached a baseball team here — he loved Shepherdstown,” Fraley said, with tears in her eyes.

The Fraley family wasn’t the only one celebrating the Fourth of July for the first time this year without beloved family members.

“The Fourth of July was my dad’s birthday,” said Kathleen Osantowske, of Shepherdstown.

Before his death, Osantowske’s family would celebrate the Fourth of July together. This year, she, her husband and their four children decided to celebrate at home in Shepherdstown for the first time.

“It’s great to celebrate being an American in this special way,” Osantowske said. “We’re doing a whole day of celebrations, which will end with a fun evening celebration with some of our neighbors.”

Friends of Shepherdstown Library President Sandy Brown agreed, and said the Shepherdstown Rotary Clubs’ purpose with hosting the celebration was to create a fun, low-cost community event.

“Shepherdstown is about community, and this is a place where families can come for free and spend the holiday together. That’s why Rotary hosts this every year — it’s about community,” said Brown, mentioning this is her fourth year coordinating free children’s activities at the picnic.

The children’s activities included “Stream Cleaner” Pinball, face painting, an American flag scavenger hunt, a waterslide and a wild bird petting area.

“I thought they would enjoy the festivities, which is why we came to the picnic. Our main purpose was coming to get our faces painted,” said Shepherdstown Middle School seventh grade English teacher Emily Zahradnik.

While waiting for the event’s face painter to arrive, Zahradnik’s two children visited the Trego Mountain Nature Center’s wild bird petting area. Zahradnik’s 3-year-old daughter hesitantly touched the wing of a barn owl — one of six birds the center director, Dina Spanomanolis, of Keedysville, Maryland, brought to the event.

Many families crowded around Spanomanolis, to take photos with or pet her hawks, falcons and owls.

“My son’s favorite thing is birds, so I knew this would be his favorite activity today. He liked the little hawk she had the most,” said Fraley-Mowen, after snapping a few photographs of her son with the hawk.