MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- An Independence couple will be at the helm of the planning effort for Western Days this year.
Keith and Dee Aldrich have been elected to co-chair positions of the Western Days Commission, taking over for Kimber Stutzman, who's ending a three-year stint as chair.
The Aldriches have almost 30 years of involvement in the event between them, managing the fireworks display and vendor booths.
The Western Days celebration and Fourth of July parade draw annually about 20,000 people to Independence and Monmouth over a three-day period.
"We're excited," Keith Aldrich said. "We hope to get some more community involvement and see as many volunteers out there as possible...to make this next year the best event ever."
Keith Aldrich is an employee of Curley's Dairy and a captain at Polk Fire District. No. 1. Dee Aldrich works as a dental hygienist in Corvallis and is a volunteer firefighter.
They'll oversee Western Day's 11 person-volunteer planning commission, as well as the 60 to 75 volunteers who help out with event operations.
They'll also direct meetings, recruit volunteers and help assemble the budget.
Dee Aldrich said she believes having co-chairs this year will be a benefit.
"It's an awful lot for one person to take on," she said. "This way if one of us can't make a meeting or finish something, we'll be able to fall back on one another."
The Aldrich family has been synonymous with Western Days since it was started in the 1980s, when Keith Aldrich began managing the fireworks display. Their two sons are training to become certified pyrotecnicians.
"I'll be in charge of fireworks again this year," he said. "That's too much fun to give up.
"I get a lot of enjoyment from listening to the crowds oohing, ahhing and yelling when I light them."
Keith Aldrich said he's proud of how the event has grown in scope and become one of the signature celebrations in the valley during July 4.
He does, however, have ideas that he'd like to implement with this year's festivities.
"What we want to see happen is for Western Days to returning to more of the hometown-type activities," Keith Aldrich said.
"Family events, like a tug-of-war, tractor pulls, cow milking contests - just wholesome family activities."
He also said he'd like to showcase local vineyards with a wine tasting event in the Riverview Park.
Planning for the festival has already begun. The commission will be holding a meeting at 7 p.m., Jan. 13 at Independence City Hall. Those interested in volunteering for a committee are encouraged to attend.