“Mr. Fourth of July” tricked into being award recipient


Clark Kolterman didn’t want the recognition, even when asked by the Fourth of July Committee to accept the Nebraska’s Friend Award for the sesquicentennial year.

“I can’t be the Nebraska’s Friend,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

So when Clark left 20 minutes later for another meeting, his niece Jessica announced that she had devised a plan to secretly designate him as the Nebraska’s Friend for 2017.

With unanimous approval by the committee, she began working with the Seward County Independent to have them develop an alternative poster designating a Nebraska celebrity as the Nebraska’s Friend as a ruse, and then approved the final poster with Clark’s name in the official role.

“Clark would never accept the Nebraska’s Friend award, and he deserves it as much as any other Nebraskan for promoting our state,” Jessica said. “I’m just glad we were able to find a way to make it happen without him catching on. The only flaw is not being able to see his face when he reads the article announcing it.”

The Seward Fourth of July celebration as it is known today was the brainchild of a group of students from the class of 1969. Determined to leave a legacy to the community, Clark and a group of classmates, later dubbed the “Wiz Bang Kids” by reporters, worked with community leaders to revitalize the Seward Fourth of July celebration.

“We had a great first couple of years, but Clark really took on the leadership role and was instrumental in helping Seward receive all their official designations from the state and later Congress,” Sen. Mark Kolterman, Clark’s twin brother and an original member of the Wiz Bang Kids, said. “He became active in tourism activities and promoted the event across the state and nation.

“It’s hard to imagine the Seward Fourth of July without Mr. Fourth of July himself. It’s been a joy to watch him thrive in leading the celebration for so many years and get so many different people involved.”

“I was absolutely amazed after my first year on the Fourth of July Committee. So many of the celebration details were never even discussed at the committee meeting; Clark just magically made them happen,” committee member Jill Kruse said. “He has a knack for getting people to volunteer and share their talents. Who can say “no” to Clark when they are aware of the hundreds of hours he volunteers to make this event happen? We are focusing on Clark’s Fourth of July efforts, but there is so much else he is involved in. Clark epitomizes the idea of Nebraska’s Friend.”

The famous celebration was honored in 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1978 with a George Washington Honor Certificate by the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge, the 1977 and 1994 George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge, the 1975 Ak-Sar-Ben Good Neighbor Award and the 1979 Merit Citation from the Nebraska Travel and Tourism Division.

In 1976 Seward was declared the official site for the Nebraska Bicentennial July Fourth celebration and in 1979 was designate as “America’s Official Fourth of July City – Small Town USA” by a resolution of Congress. Seward was also proclaimed “Nebraska’s Official Fourth of July City” by Gov. James Exon and has been recognized be the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism as the “Outstanding Community Event in Nebraska” three years in a row, 2005, 2006, and 2007, and again in 2015 and 2016. Seward has received the award seven times to date.

“Seward is a community with a foundation built by dedicated volunteers who’s love for Seward can be seen all around us and who’s patriotism shines brightest on the Fourth of July, said Mayor Josh Eickmeier. “No one exemplifies that volunteer spirit more than Clark Kolterman.”

One of the hallmarks of Clark’s legacy has been his ability to get new people involved in putting on the celebration.

Sharon Hambek was pulled into Seward’s Fourth of July committee by Clark when she and her husband moved to Seward. Soon they were running the Fourth of July craft show and miscellaneous market. Sharon had known Clark through tourism circles and had offered to get involved.

“I never dreamed Clark would get me pulled into as many things as he has,” she said, laughing.

One thing Hambek really appreciates about Clark is his willingness to support and cheer on other volunteers.

“Clark makes everything fun and he always has our back as volunteers, supporting the decisions we make,” she said.

Tim Thurber was part of the Fourth celebration through his time at Seward High.

“Clark, a.k.a ‘Mr. Fourth of July,’ played a big role in getting me involved with the Seward Fourth of July,” Thurber said. “Under Clark’s leadership in the past I have co-chaired the parade, helped with the fireworks show, ran the Facebook page for the celebration and assisted with many other aspects of the festival.

“My passion for fireworks, which started with helping with the celebration, has led me to my new position with Spirit of ‘76 Fireworks that I start next month. Clark has played a huge role in building the Seward Fourth of July into one of nation’s finest Independence Day Celebrations. No one is more deserving of the Nebraska’s Friend Award than Clark.”

In the days leading up to the Fourth, Clark is busy preparing and coordinating the many activities related to the day. While he is quick to credit his committee for their contributions in making the day successful, everyone involved knows that a lot of things happen because Clark makes them happen.

“Every year I am constantly amazed by the nuggets we pull out of his brain and get him to share with us about things he does that contribute to making the Fourth what it is. From making sure there is a knife to cut ‘America’s birthday cake’ to lining up every program for every stage around town to emceeing the parade and bandshell activities on the day of the Fourth, no detail gets by Clark,” Jessica said. “My biggest concern for the celebration is that we won’t get all of his insight out of his head and we will lose some of his institutional knowledge if something were to happen to him.”

Because of this, the committee has started probing Clark for details throughout recent meetings, trying to determine all the things he does behind the scenes that contribute to making the day what it is.

“We’ve already arranged for some people to fill his duties this year so he can ride in the parade and attend the receptions. He will probably argue with us that he has to work that day, but I think he should take a bit of time on the Fourth to enjoy the fruits of his labor,” Jessica said.