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Time for Lutz to cut loose

Wednesday will see the biggest small-town party around, which this year converted the United Methodist Church into one of its biggest participants.

By BILL COATS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001


Wednesday will see the biggest small-town party around, which this year converted the United Methodist Church into one of its biggest participants.

LUTZ -- Last year, First United Methodist Church of Lutz scarcely participated in the community's July 4 celebration -- unless you consider that it hired Leo Villanueva that week.

Villanueva, who took over the Methodists' music program, soon heard about Lutz's big small-town celebration, which brought thousands of people past the old church's front steps, and the 90-unit parade, which filled the church's parking lot with spectators.

"I basically told them, 'We need to participate,' " he said.

So Wednesday, when Lutz throws its biggest party of the year, Methodists may be nearly as visible as American flags. They have planned:

A performance by the church's Brass Ensemble around 9 a.m. at Lutz's train depot.

Performances throughout the morning by the church's contemporary Praise Band on a stage in the church parking lot.

A patriotic parade float with church leaders.

A Western-themed float, tied to Vacation Bible School, with the church's children.

A walking concert in the parade by the Fanfare Ringers, the Methodist handbell choir.

Performances at 11 a.m. by the church's Chancel Choir and the handbell choir, at the depot.

Villanueva, 28, said vocalist Bonnie Sue Zaner plans several songs with the Brass Ensemble. And the group will have more than brass. The instruments consist of two saxophones, a trumpet, a trombone, a piano and drums.

"That's what the Lord has given us so far, so we're using it," he said.

The Methodists' role is one of several changes that Lutz's July 4th regulars are likely to notice Wednesday in the old downtown.

Another is the expansion of the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department, the church's neighbor. Construction work is forcing the firefighters to move their big annual fundraiser, a barbecue chicken lunch, from the fire department to the Lutz Community Center two blocks to the east. That bumped the annual cake contest from the community center to the Lutz Senior Center, which is next to the Fire Department. A model train display, which was in the community center last year, is moving to the Lutz Branch Library this year.

Last year, in a torrid election campaign season, the parade was flush with office-seekers and hundreds of supporters. This year, a half-dozen or fewer politicians had signed up by last week.

"Last year, we had all the politicians," said Auralee Buckingham, who chairs the celebration for the Lutz-Land O'Lakes Woman's Club. "This year, we've got the ones who won."

Yet Shirley Simmons, who is planning the parade for the Woman's Club, predicted it will be just as large, based on the number of early entries.

Nobody is ever sure, because in true democratic tradition, Lutz's parade is open to anyone who wants to be in it. Over recent years, it has included Little Leaguers and all varieties of scouts; baby-strollers, lawnmowers and tricycles; belly dancers and an Elvis impersonator; horses, goats, pigs, dogs, chickens, cows and a demure boa constrictor.

Odd characters have appeared long enough to impress the parade judges, but vanished too soon to collect their trophies.

"People love the children's groups and things like that, the babies and things," Mrs. Simmons said.

This year will bring the first appearance of the "Lutz Fruits," a group of neighbors who live near a citrus grove. They plan to ride in a formation of golf carts and trailers.

Another first will be a float by the Civil Air Patrol's North Tampa Cadet Squadron. The cadets are creating a papier-mache airplane flying above clouds, said Bill Westcott, the squadron commander.

The parade is followed by a cake auction. Last year, a pineapple "yum-yum" cake went for $60.

And after that, a new guv'na is named. Six candidates, the largest field ever, have been raising money since April in the annual fundraising competition. The guv'na gets a sash, top hat and garish "key to the city," and takes an oath of office based on Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham.

Last comes Lutz's annual secession from Hillsborough County and Florida.

Then everybody goes home to cool off.

- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or coats@sptimes.com.

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