In Memory of Harry Robinson
“He was our mentor, our friend, and we will miss him.”
Every year the Sternwheel Festival brings together family and friends for a fun-filled weekend of events – including boat races, a car show and a 5K run – and of course a Saturday night fireworks display that competes with some of the best in the U.S. This fireworks spectacle, better known as the Harry J. Robinson Fireworks, is an annual celebration of the man behind the name..
Harry was synonymous with the current tourism success in Marietta, OH, in particular our beloved Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, preserving the riverboat heritage for which our area is well known. Over his many years of dedication, Harry was an active figure in this river city, as the proprietor of the Lafayette Hotel for several years to co-founding the Sternwheel Festival more than 40 years ago. For more than three decades, Harry tirelessly worked to make the Saturday night extravaganza well worth the trip for thousands of people who travel hundreds of miles to see “the lights.” He dedicated himself to the craft by traveling across the country to view a variety of firework displays, helping him master the fireworks show we have all come to love.
When Harry announced in January 2005 that it was his last year to chair the fireworks committee, the Ohio River Sternwheel Committee members decided to dedicate this program and the festival to its mentor, officially naming the fireworks – the Harry J. Robinson Fireworks.
We hope you share this important historical tidbit with family and friends as you celebrate the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival this September.
The Humble Force
From The Marietta Times, February, 2011
By Brad Bauer
The “humble force” behind the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival and its annual fireworks display has died Harry J. Robinson, 89, of Marietta, died on February 14 , said his wife of 68 years, Mae.
In addition to being instrumental in the start of the annual festival, Robinson spearheaded the drive to bring the Showboat Becky Thatcher to Marietta and was involved in starting the Ohio Showboat Drama Inc., the American Sternwheel Association and the Muskingum River Navy.
Robinson also was a longtime owner of the Lafayette Hotel and several other properties downtown. He worked for many years in Marietta as an accountant, and was an active member in nearly every service club in the area.
“I used to tell him he loved Marietta first and me second,” Mae Robinson said. “He would just laugh and say, ‘You know that’s not the truth.'”
In addition to his wife, Robinson is survived by two sons, three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
For the past three years, Robinson had been suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and was living in a nursing home, his wife said.
The couple met when they were 18 and working together at a Broughton’s restaurant in Parkersburg. “We had a good life and stayed together longer than most,” Mae said.
Robinson, who was from Parkersburg, fell in love with Marietta when he visited in 1938 for the Pioneer City’s 150th anniversary, his wife said.
“His Scout troop came to Marietta. He was an Eagle Scout and I believe President (Theodore) Roosevelt was here and they had a fireworks display down in the park,” Mae said. “He said, ‘You know, I’m going to live in Marietta one of these days and I’m going to have fireworks.’ It took him a while, but he created those 35 years ago when he started the Sternwheel Festival and the fireworks there.”
Up until about five years ago, when his health started to fail, Robinson remained a driving force behind the festival and organized the fireworks show every year. The show was then renamed in his honor.
“He was a humble man,” Mae said. “He didn’t want praise for anything. He just loved to do it.”
Dennis Blauser, 48, of Marietta, said he met Robinson in 1975, when Robinson was chairman of the city’s bicentennial commission. In recent years, Blauser assisted Robinson on the Sternwheel Festival’s fireworks committee, eventually taking over as the fireworks chairman.
“Harry loved his town and considered it as important as his family,” he said. “A goal of mine would be to come close to the work of his to improve the city of Marietta.”
Cheri Seevers, past director general of the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, said Robinson’s influence will be remembered.
“He was Mr. Fireworks,” she said. “I remember at our dinner-auctions it was amazing how many people would donate just because he was the one who called. People loved Harry and appreciated his dedication to the community.”
Marietta businessman Bob Kirkbride said the label “pillar of the community” definitely applied to Robinson.
“He was a terrific CPA. He and his associates in his firm helped numerous businesses in this area do a lot better than they would have otherwise,” Kirkbride said. “He was important to the economic fiber of this community.”