Like every other red-blooded American who spends the Fourth of July in Marathon, Michael Mearns said his memories of Independence Day involve fireworks – big, bright loud ones that light up the entire beach.
Except for Michael, his view of the awe-inspiring sky concert is from ground zero. His dad, Randy, has been the mastermind and conductor of the famed sky concert for decades.
In 1974, Mearns became a volunteer with the Marathon fire department where he served for 10 years as assistant chief and 12 years as chief. It was through this service to his community that he became an integral part of the fireworks display each summer.
“It used to be a little tiny show off the point at the Yacht Club,” he remembered.
More than two decades ago, the annual production grew to include the accompaniment of local musicians, and even up until 10 years ago, the Mearns men and their team lit the fireworks by hand until state regulations dictated that they must be done electronically.
“For a while, we even did the show off Boot Key, but when the bridge was closed, we couldn’t get over there anymore,” he explained. “So now, we just shoot ‘em off from the furthest point down at the end of the beach.”
Mearns was born outside Philadelphia, Pa. before he moved to the Keys with his family at the age of 12. Warmer temperatures only allowed Randy and his brother more time to explore the surrounding flats and hidden canals of Marathon with his skiff he used to explore the banks of the Delaware River.
“We pretty much lived on the water,” he reflected. “We skied, dove for lobster, and went spearfishing.”
Like many Middle Keys residents who’ve survived the storms and challenges of island living for decades, Randy’s got countless stories of how the Keys have changed. One of his favorite memories of childhood was water skiing with his brother and friends through the waterways and sloughs of Sister’s Creek.
They also frequently enjoyed plunging from 60 feet in the air to the cooling depths of ocean water flowing through the Old Bahia Honda Bridge.
“There are a lot of things around now that weren’t here back then,” Mearns reflected on the population growth in the Keys over the past 35 years. “But there was still plenty for us to do as kids. There was a movie theater, a roller rink and a bowling alley. Now that stuff’s gone.”
In 1981, Randy purchased Marathon Electric Sign & Light, continuing the legacy of two previous owners and one of the Middle Keys oldest electric service firms.
He said Marathon Electric carries the commercial parts in their large warehouse that are not available at the big box stores.
His office is decorated with oversized portraits of speedboats zipping around courses all over the state of Florida. In his spare time, Randy and Michael travel to nearly a dozen races each year and help set up the course. Randy initially became involved in the boat racing circuit as a paramedic responder and eventually moved to the administrative side. His passion, however, was being on the front lines in the water, so he now serves as a first responder on the race course.
Michael’s had a hand in the fireworks display for as long as he can remember, and he’s also his father’s right hand man in the business. But he’s not sure whether or not he’s being groomed to take the reins of the family empire.
“It’s just a job that keeps me out of trouble for now,” he laughed sincerely.
This Sunday, July 4, bring your family and friends down to Sombrero Beach to enjoy the annual spectacle orchestrated by Randy, Michael and the many hands that work together to produce the Middle Keys most fantastic fireworks celebration of our country’s independence.