'I Love America Festival' celebrates faith, family, freedom

Saturday, July 5, 2008 | 12:20 a.m. CDT; updated 4:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Tom Ragsdell and his wife, Jennifer, spent nine years working as missionaries in Ukraine. When they returned to the U.S., Ragsdell said, they had a new perspective and appreciation for what it means to be free in this country.

In March 2007 the couple formed the New Life Community Church, which began as a series of Bible study meetings in their home.

And this Fourth of July, the church helped sponsor the second annual “I Love America Festival,” an afternoon of recreation, food and “patriotic family fun,” complete with perfect weather held at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

The festival is not meant to be “churchy,” Ragsdell said, but was billed as a community event, open to everyone and designed around three core values of “faith, family and freedom.”

Ragsdell said he believes it’s important to “fight for and celebrate” our freedoms.

Smoke and smells of barbecue wafted over the fairground’s central road, where children pedaled and swooshed their bikes around a line of orange traffic cones strung with red, white and blue flags. It was the final stretch of the kids’ duathalon, a feat requiring the tough, squinting (and by the end of the event, sweaty) competitors to round the festival grounds three times: once on foot and twice on their bikes, which had been parked carefully in a grassy patch near the barbecue area, helmets dangling from their many-colored handlebars.

Suddenly, a boy wearing a gray shirt with green sleeves rounded the corner.

“Here he comes, our first finisher, number 318, that’s the winner!” Ragsdell called from his microphone.

He added: “In the ‘I Love America’ kids’ duathalon!”

After the race, children reflected on what they love most about their country.

Danny Carinder, 7, who finished the duathalon and also competed in Wilson’s Total Fitness’ triathlon last weekend, said his favorite thing about America is “soccer and sports.”

Danny’s sister, Alyssa, 9, loves “that you get to go to church every Sunday.”

Calix Fattmann, 7, said that what he loves most about America is “the flag.”

What Bryce Plastridge, 9, loves most about America is “going down the slides (at the festival).”

His brother, Ryan, 11, searched his mind for a moment before offering his response: “I like the triathlons,” he said.

But his mother, Theresa Plastridge, gently prompted him to give an additional one:

“What do we have here in America that a lot of people don’t have — that we talked about?” she said.

Ryan thought for another moment.

“That we’re free,” he said.

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