Grand Lake’s 11th annual Constitution Week celebrates veterans
If you aren’t feeling patriotic, stay out of Grand Lake this week because the 11th annual Grand Lake U.S. Constitution Week celebration is underway. With 11 speakers, fireworks, a flyover, live music, a park dedication and more, the schedule strives to satisfy the title organizers claim that it’s “the premier Constitution Week celebration in America.”
Mike Tompkins, the chairman of the board of directors for Constitution Week, said this year’s celebration features an emphasis on veterans. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars will dedicate Triangle Park in Grand Lake as Veterans Memorial Park.
“It’s a veteran’s park for all Grant County veterans,” Tompkins said. “We’re very proud to publicize it. We’re not involved in any way, except we’re trying to get as many to attend as possible to honor our veterans.”
The other main connection to service members comes from three of the speakers, who are veterans themselves. Retired Navy Captains Charles Wood and L. Laddie Cosburn will speak Thursday at 11 a.m. about “the Constitution and the warrior,” and Army veteran Jay Bowen will speak at 11 a.m. Friday about “what makes our constitutional republic unique in history.”
The schedule for the week includes an 11 a.m. and a 6 p.m. speech Monday through Friday at the Grand Lake Center. Saturday features the park dedication at 9 a.m., a flyover and parade at 10:30 a.m., festivities in Town Park starting at 11:30 a.m., a keynote speech from Frank Donatelli at 12:30 p.m., a performance from Doster Band at 2 p.m. and fireworks over the waterfront at 8:30 p.m. The week ends Sunday with a worship service at 10:30 a.m. in Town Park.
Tompkins said the event came to Grand Lake almost by chance when one of the former organizers, Tom Goodfellow, wanted to have a late-summer fireworks show after the town’s Fourth of July fireworks were canceled in 2012.
Goodfellow thought of Constitution Week because of its patriotic nature, but he and Tompkins were surprised to find out that President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week in 1956.
“We changed the date slightly,” Tompkins said. “We start the Monday before the 17th and go through whatever week contains the 17th, we go through the following Sunday.”
Although it has serendipitous beginnings and aims to educate people about and celebrate the Constitution, the week has not been free of controversy of the years. In 2017, a speaker identified as Deena from Dearborn, Michigan, gave a speech titled, “Is Sharia Law Compatible with the U.S. Constitution?”
Deena expressed controversial beliefs, including that Islam is the single most severe threat to the survival of our nation — the religion entirely, not “radicalized Islamic fundamentalists.” She also generally avoided talking about the Constitution, instead leaving it up to the audience to decide if her description of Sharia Law aligned with the founding document.
That speech, as well as a 2021 appearance from John Eastman, a lawyer who pushed to overturn the 2020 election, led critics to say the event is overly partisan. Tompkins said he welcomes positive and negative feedback because the First Amendment protects both kinds.
“If people have negative opinions, they are entitled to them,” Tompkins said. “We listen to them. If they post them on our Facebook page, because we’re big supporters of the First Amendment, we leave them up. We leave them up because of our support for free speech, but also because they’re great publicity. Negative comments spark people’s curiosity.”
As for partisanship, Tompkins said the event aims to be bipartisan by allowing speakers with different political persuasions to express their opinions. He said he expects some speakers, like the veterans, to be nonpartisan, while others will make their political leanings clear. Organizers try to get speakers with a variety of views, Tompkins said, partisan or not.
The partisanship criticism may stem from a trend Tompkins identified in the speaker recruiting process — a speaker one year often suggests one for the next year.
“If we started off with more conservative speakers, that would be a trend that could grow,” Tompkins said. “But we make a concerted effort to — we would ask the Grand County Democrats, very regularly, if they had any recommendations. When they made a recommendation one year, we not only invited that speaker, but he was our keynote speaker.”
Tompkins said he is especially excited about two events: the keynote speech from Donatelli, who worked in Ronald Reagan’s administration and attended Regan’s speech for the 200th anniversary of the Constitution’s signing, and the trivia contest Thursday at 3 p.m. at Rockies restaurant.
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