Moroni • As it does every year, the 4th of July calls home the families of Moroni.
Andersons and Aagards, Blackhams and Baileys, Cooks and Jensens, to name a few.
"This is a good place to be. Everybody knows everybody around here," said Tyler Bailey, a councilman in this Sanpete County city of 1,400, best known for its turkey rearing and processing industry. "The ones who move away, they always come back. They like the small-town celebration, the small-town atmosphere. It's the same every year."
For years, the Bailey family has overseen the 5K "Turkey Trot" run that kicks off the day's festivities about the time the volunteer fire department fires up its griddles for a pancake breakfast beneath the hill-top pavilion, next to the senior center.
Bailey was pleased Thursday as cloud cover held down the scorching temperatures of recent days. The air was still. "There was no turkey dust this morning," he explained. "Sometimes when the wind's blowing , you can see turkey dust in the air. But you can see all the way to the [San Pitch] mountains today. That's good conditions for the runners," who were 140 strong.
Long-time Moroni residents Frank and Beryl Cook waited at the finish line for six family members, three daughters and three grandkids, to arrive. Six-year-old Rex, now from Lehi, was the first in his inaugural 5K. Grandma and grandpa were ecstatic.
"This is why a lot of people come back," said Frank, a big grin on his face after congratulating his speedy offspring. "It's amazing where all of our kids end up. We have them from coast to coast."
What helps bring them back for the 4th is a combination of a classic holiday celebration mixed with the unique character of Moroni and the half dozen other small towns in this agrarian valley.
There's a parade, naturally, running past 10 blocks of homes and small businesses.
But this one kicks off with a ping pong ball drop. A small plane flies over Main Street and a person inside tosses out handfuls of colored balls, unleashing a mad dash by kids holding plastic bags for candy that will come later in the parade. But at this point, all eyes are on bouncing ping pong balls, redeemable for a prize later.
Dylan Keller, 9, from Mt. Pleasant got one. "There were quite a few kids running toward me, but I just stayed there. The ball bounced toward me and I kind of caught it," he said nonchalantly.
Tiffany Anderson Magleby's brood of five sons and nephews were skunked in their pursuit of ping pong balls. But she was happy just to be back like always on the 4th at the home of her recently departed 99-year-old grandma. "I've been here every year since I was born," said the 37-year-old, now living in Stansbury Park.
Beauty-queen waves were numerous. Because Sanpete has so many towns, the parade featured royalty not just from Moroni but also Mount Pleasant, Ephraim, Fountain Green, Fairview, Spring City, Nephi, the Ute Stampede and the Sanpete County sweetheart contest.
And what would a Moroni 4th be without the races.
"People have told me it's the main reason they come back to see the races," said Councilman Bailey, recounting a lifetime of thrills from watching boys and girls, from babies to 12-year-olds, race for prizes in different age divisions starting with the crawlers. One-year-old Mason Blackham claimed that title this year, enticed to speed across the 7-foot course by a blue lollipop held by his mom, Emily.
"I remember racing in it when I was little," said Melissa Bailey Jensen, now of Payson, as she later cheered on her daughters, 5-year-old Jessica and Lizzie, 7. "I'm glad they've continued the tradition."
Speaking of tradition, Cook boasted, there are no better fireworks than Moroni's.
"You're up there next to them on the ballfield," he said. "They're right overhead. It's just beautiful."