Three events highlighted the Panaca Sesquicentennial Celebration last week: the unveiling of the bronze statue of Francis and Jane Vail Johnson-Lee

Five of the seven ladies who were in the running for the 1964 Panaca Centennial Celebration Queen ride through town in style during the Sesquicentennial parade last week. (Dave Maxwell photo)

Three events highlighted the Panaca Sesquicentennial Celebration last week: the unveiling of the bronze statue of Francis and Jane Vail Johnson-Lee in front of the town hall, the Center of the Universe Play at the Mathews Center, and the big parade on Saturday.

A week of events, July 22-28, observed the 150th anniversary of the founding of the town of Panaca, when the first permanent settlers came into the Meadow Valley in May 1864.

A bronze statue of Francis and Jane Lee was commissioned by the Sesquicentennial committee from Utah sculptor Lester Lee, himself a descendent of the Lees.

Committee chairman Pete Peterson said the unveiling ceremony had Main Street temporarily shut down with a large crowd on hand. Ron Jones, a former military officer, was Master of Ceremonies. Rob Mathews spoke a little about Francis and Jane Lee and gave a dedicatory prayer.

A great-granddaughter of the Lees, Florence Miles Peck of Denver, said she was particularly touched by the statue, and when she saw the play, “I just felt so close to the people who were even acting the parts. They were my great-grandparents, but both died before I could meet them. I had to come back home again. I like the pose of the statue.”

The musical play, written especially for the Sesquicentennial and directed by Peterson, was performed nightly except Sunday, at the Neldon Mathews Center. Music direction by Jacob Lester, choreography by Mindy Anderson, and music played by Jackie Thomas.

The two-act play, Peterson said, dealt with the history of the first settlers in the Panaca area from 1864 and their descendents to about the mid 1950s.

A large cast was involved in the production, which Peterson said was drawn heavily from the 1966 book A Century In Meadow Valley by Ruth Lee and Sylvia Wadsworth.

Peterson said the play was received well, with full houses most nights. “They laugh at the jokes and have teared up a couple of times. I worried so bad, but it’s been received very well.” 

In addition, several local families had family reunions during the weekend and were easily noticed by the different colored T-shirts they were wearing.

Saturday was a full day of activities beginning with a hot air balloon festival early in the morning. Not as many balloons came as expected, but early risers were able to enjoy them anyway.

A breakfast fundraiser sponsored, prepared and served by the Panaca LDS Wards and the Boy Scouts was served at the church west lawn.

Kids games and races followed on the lawn. A craft fair, vendors and concession booths were set up all day on the lawn east of the Mathews Center.

The First Annual Panaca Classic Car show was held at Pioneer Park, and a quilt display at the Mathews Center.

Theme of the parade Saturday afternoon was “Cherish The Past, Embrace Our Future.” About 50 entries were in the parade with Grand Marshal being 99-year old Cecil Lee, a great-grandson, and oldest living descendant of Francis Lee.

Rainclouds and thunder threatened the parade, but clouds moved mostly to the southeast and only a drop or two was felt by parade watchers.

A flyover ping-pong ball drop was supposed to happen at the football field Saturday afternoon, but it was reported the pilot did not want to fly as low as needed over the field with the winds on a warm and humid day being unpredictable. So the ping-pong balls, each marked with a prize, were spread on the field off the back of a couple of four-wheelers.

Amateur historian Randal Allen presented a historical slide show and lecture at the Mathews Center both Saturday and Sunday.

A fine turnout came for the Saturday evening barbeque dinner, a Boy Scout fundraiser, held at the LDS church and Lynx Lair at the high school.

Peterson said most everything went the way it was planned, “a few little glitches, but for the most part all happening without a hitch. The community pulling together and working together has brought great success with everything.”

Overall attendance was a little less than expected, he thought, “but not much.” He later said, “Everybody’s tired, but thrilled with the way it turned out.”