Organizing Big Lake’s biggest event, full of big-name bands, vendors, fireworks and over 10,000 people, is not for the faint of heart.

Big Lake Chamber of Commerce Director Loretta Epperson takes the responsibility in stride.

This year’s Santa Rita Star Spangled Banner Celebration, the largest in a string of five, went off without a hitch.

Much like an iceberg, what most people see the day of the event does not show a full picture of how much work and dedication it takes to pull off.

“It is a year long process,” Loretta said. “When the Star Spangled Celebration is over, we put our head down and start on the next year’s event.”

The year-long work begins with selecting the bands, and nailing down a date for the celebration which hinges around the Fourth of July.

“When we first decided to start going after bigger bands I thought you just called them up and got them on the schedule,” Loretta said. “There is so much more to it than that.”

During the planning for the first Star Spangled Celebration, the chamber reached out to someone Loretta knew from her time in Coleman who was a treasure trove of information on planning a large event.

“Jody Barr knew how the process works,” Loretta said. “He helped us make contact with the bands and how the contract process works with them. We have leaned on his experience ever since and he is a huge reason for our success.”

Loretta said it can sometimes take between four and six months for the band signing process to be complete.

“The chamber board gets together a short list of who we would like to have,” Loretta said. “Then I make contact to see how we can make our event fit into their touring schedule.”

While most of the year is spent lining out the lineup and securing lighting and sound, the last two months really begin to heat up.

“Once the bands are set and we have the big items in place it comes down to lining up vendors and securing sponsors,” Loretta said. “We have been blessed with support from the City of Big Lake, the County and wonderful sponsors who have really stepped up to the plate to help make this event as large as it has become.”

Loretta said she relies on her organization skills she learned as a Tupperware manager and a teacher to help bring the event to life.

“It really does come down to organization,” Loretta said. “I was a Tupperware manager for 10 years while my kids were younger, then spent 22 years in the Coleman school district as a teacher and high school secretary. The skills I learned doing all that have helped with the work I do today.”

Loretta said it takes a crew of volunteers to help bring the Star Spangled Celebration to life.

“Our chamber board has been amazing,” Loretta said. “My husband and family also help tremendously.”

The chamber board consists of Delfina Romero, Sherri Gay, Chad Elkins, Dora Carrasco, J.L. Mankin, Tiffany DeLaRosa, Justin MacGregor, Karen Cammack and Lee Wayne Ingelsbe.

“The county and the city have been a huge supporters of what we do each year,” Epperson said. “Both the city and the county help get the North Park ready for the weekend. Their efforts are greatly appreciated by all of us.”

One county employee in particular has a special tie to the event.

Loretta’s husband of 45 years, Lewis, worked for the highway department in Coleman for 25 years before moving to Big Lake to take a job with Reagan County.

“Lewis works extremely hard to make sure the North Park is in tip-top shape for us to hold the event,” Loretta said. “Beyond that, he really gives us his all during the event with anything we need.”

Loretta, with the help of the chamber board, her family and other volunteers, work tirelessly the day of the event from before 8 a.m. to well after midnight.

“It is exhausting,” Loretta said. “But rewarding at the same time.”

Thousands of people come from all over the state and country to attend the free event.

“Knowing this event brings so many people in for that weekend from all over is amazing,” Loretta said. “They spend a lot of money here in Big Lake at our stores and our hotels. That is what it is all about for us.”

The event is funded through Big Lake’s Hotel Motel Tax along with sponsorships from local businesses.

It isn’t just the crowds that come back each year. The event has the musicians wanting to come back as well.

“We have had band managers asking if they can be a part of the event again,” Loretta said. “That is flattering. They are big names, and are actively asking to come back to Big Lake. We try to keep it all fresh each year as far as the bands go, but it still means a lot for these groups to know our community and want to be a part of what we do.”

The event isn’t the only community related project Loretta and the chamber take on each year.

“This one takes the most planning,” Loretta said. “But during all that we also have a Daddy Daughter Dance, Christmas in the Park and our annual Chamber Banquet.”

Loretta said each event has its own challenges and rewards, but the Star Spangled Celebration has by far the biggest impact on the community.

“I don’t know what it will look like in five years,” Loretta said. “I know we have interest in making it bigger and better each year. I think we have hit our capacity with the current set up as far as crowd sizes, and that is OK.”

As for what is in the works for next year goes, Loretta said plans are already in their beginning stages.

“The chamber board will start the process of narrowing down a list of bands,” Loretta said. “It just starts all over again.”