PROVO — There was no shortage of patriotic spirit in Utah County Thursday as thousands of people kicked off Independence Day weekend by attending the annual Freedom Festival.
While some woke up early for the 6:30 a.m Balloon Festival, 15 other people set their alarm clocks for a different reason.
"I was so proud that my citizenship is today, it puts that feeling in my heart, you know, that this is my country now," said Emilia Huebsch, who moved to America from Panama in 2004 after a marriage proposal from her now-husband.
Ten years and two children later, Huebsch was among those who came to Seneca Park in Orem to take the Oath of Allegiance and receive their U.S. citizenship.
"I was feeling already free and good with my residency, but now I’m feeling really 100 percent a part of everything. I am going to have more rights now," Huebsch said.
For Netherlands native Paul Brouwer, his citizenship was meaningful in more ways than one.
Brouwer, who works as a seminary teacher for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moved to the United States in 1995 and now lives in Spanish Fork. He joked that his official U.S. standing meant that his co-workers could no longer tease him for being a foreigner in front of his students.
He also said that although the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup competition, his application to become an American citizen could not be stopped.
"I believed, but the dream there ended," Brouwer said of the U.S. soccer squad. "But my dream lives on."
Scott Swain, founder of "Cries of Freedom," a theatrical production that educates people on patriotism and the history of the Founders, has organized the Oath of Allegiance ceremony for the past seven years. For him, the purpose of the event is centered around explaining the importance of the oath.
"We are all under it, it’s an oath that Americans take to uphold our institution and our Constitution in the name of God, so it’s a pretty serious thing," Swain said.
Elsewhere Thursday, another Fourth of July tradition got underway as the Balloon Festival kicked off, despite early morning winds that kept most hot air balloons grounded.
"This is a real family tradition for us. We’ve participated in this as a family for 30 years and it’s a big deal, we really like it," Bronson Kelly said.
Kelly's father, Brian, came up with the idea in 1984. However, Brian Kelly, 73, also credits the start of the Balloon Festival to his partner, Erwin Oertli.
The two men, both experienced hot air balloon pilots, agreed that ballooning has provided some of the best experiences of their lives.
"Its like being on your own magic carpet. When the burner's off, you’re just floating. The earth is moving away from you rather then the other way around," Oertli said.
Due to windy weather, only three out of 25 balloons present were able to lift off; however, that did not stop the oohs and ahhs of about 5,000 onlookers, who will get another chance early Friday morning.
Kelly's $90,000 pink balloon, called The Piggy Bank, and Oertli's $54,000 Bank of American Fork Balloon were two of the three that lifted into the air Thursday morning.
Wayne Ross, vice chairman of the festival, said that he hopes Friday will bring perfect weather so all 25 balloons will be up and running.
"It's just a fantastic event here on the Fourth of July weekend, and it's become one of the premier events that people come out too," Ross said.
Celebrations will continue in Provo throughout the weekend.
People looking to commemorate the Fourth of July during the day, should save a seat along University Avenue and Center Street if they want to watch the Grand Parade, which starts at 9 a.m. On Friday night, folks with tickets can look forward to Grammy Award-winning singer Carrie Underwood at the Stadium of Fire concert.
Events are scheduled throughout the Wasatch Front, with parades scheduled in Murray, 8:30 a.m.; Kaysvillle, 11 a.m., and in Park City, also at 11 a.m.
"The Fourth of July means a lot to me," U.S. Air Force Cadet Aaron Oborn said Thursday as he enjoyed the festivities in Utah County. "I mean that was our country's birthdate where we had freedom, with the signing of the Declaration. It means to me that we’re free and it reminds me that freedom isn’t free."
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