A unique farewell to the brother of a Vinton resident inspired many spectators at Boomtown this year.
Before the main show started, Melanie Peterson, sister-in-law of Jen Kreutner, pushed a button, and a single 8-inch wide, 18-pound shell blasted high above the track and exploded into a shower of orange streaks and bright lights.
Inside that shell, along with the black powder which set off the charge, and the chemicals that make up the colorful lights, were the ashes of Melanie’s late husband and Jen’s brother, Jarrett Peterson.
Jarrett died suddenly a year ago, in his sleep, of a heart attack. He was just 47.
Along with some of his friends, Jarrett, who was the first communications director for the Ankeny school district, had spent much of the last decade of his life loving and sharing fireworks with his friends and neighbors.
“About 11 years ago, Jarrett and his friend, Carl Kulczyk, went down to Missouri and bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of fireworks. They had a Fourth of July party at Carl’s house,” recalls Melanie.
The men – and their audience – so thoroughly enjoyed the fireworks show that it quickly became an annual event that grew bigger and bigger each year.
The amount of fireworks grew, and Jarrett and his friends started putting the fireworks to music, ending with a 15-minute show every Fourth of July.
“Jarrett would spend hours timing out the music, counting the inches of the fuse to correspond to the music, and tying them all together using one fuse,” Melanie recalls.
For Jarrett, that 15-minute display was a year-round labor of love.
“He’d edit the videotape of the show (he used to work in video production) and on July 5th, he would start to plan the next year’s July 4 show,” says Melanie. “I was a ‘fireworks widow’ for a while. He loved selecting the music, setting up the sound system, and wiring up the fireworks with his buddies.”
Watching Jarrett pursue his love of fireworks is one of Melanie’s favorite memories.
The Petersons began making the annual trip to Vinton for Boomtown about eight years ago, because Jarrett’s sister lives near Vinton. He joined the IPA in 2012, and participated in a few lectures on building fireworks displays.
The Ankeny show continued, even after Jarrett’s friend Carl’s sudden death, also caused by a heart attack, in 2008. Some other buddies took Carl’s place, helping Jarrett set up the displays.
Melanie recalls the final show that Jarrett and his pals shared, on July 4, 2015.
“Our friends, Bart and Lori Clark, with whom Jarrett had done the fireworks show for many years on their property, had decided to put their house on the market. They didn’t want to have a fireworks show that year, but Jarrett and Bart had a few leftover fireworks from the year before. We had a small gathering, with the ‘gang,’ which consisted of Jarrett’s high school buddies, and their spouses. We had a small fireworks display, and a lot of fun,” Melanie recalls.
Jarrett died three weeks later; now his friends are looking for ways to continue his tradition.
The Clarks visited Boomtown this year, and Bart spoke in honor of Jarrett while Melanie prepared to push the button that ignited Jarrett’s fireworks shell.
“They were so impressed,” says Melanie. “They said they are definitely coming back.”
Jarrett’s friends, who helped him prepare the fireworks and the board each year, hope to continue his tradition, although they first need to find a farmer willing to let them use their land for the show.
After Carl’s death, Jarrett had worked with IPA members to make a fireworks shell with some of Carl’s ashes, and that shell was set off at a family gathering.
Remembering that tribute, Melanie contacted the IPA, asking if there would be anybody who would be willing to make fireworks with Jarrett’s ashes for next spring
Vinton resident and long-time IPA participant Tom Pingenot responded, telling Melanie that the IPA does a tribute every year to members who have passed away, and invited her to bring some ashes so another IPA member could build a shell.
On Saturday afternoon, Melanie and her daughters met that IPA member, Kim Lockard, who made the firework.
“My daughters and I got to sign the firework and write Jarrett a message, and we had our picture taken with the shell,” Melanie recalls.
“We all had tears in our eyes,” says Pingenot, who heard Lockard describe making the shell to Jarrett’s wife and daughters.
The tribute was part of the IPA memorial to members who have died in the past year, and was followed by the playing of Taps.
Later Saturday night, after Boomtown had ended, IPA members gave Melanie some sky lanterns. She and her daughters, other relatives and friends wrote messages on them and sent them up around midnight. They floated straight overhead straight up and remained visible for a long time.
“I think Jarrett would approve,” Melanie said.