Ralston, Omaha’s neighbor just south of Q Street, has a population of less than 7,300 for 364 days a year. On Independence Day, the town’s Fourth of July celebration brings in approximately 40,000 people for its parade, fireworks display, and other events. Chamber of Commerce volunteer Dennis Leslie has been key to keeping it all running smoothly for years. And the semi-retired local businessman loves it.
“The past three or four years I’ve been manning the phones on the Fourth of July in the (chamber) office,” he says. “Fielding questions like ‘When are the fireworks gonna start?’ ‘What time does the parade start?’ [and] ’Where can I park?’” Leslie knows the answers to all those questions and more. He also collects and tracks raffle ticket money that other volunteers hand in throughout the day, and helps out in any other way he can. In the past, he’s even worked on setting up the parade grandstands. The Chamber of Commerce staff (an office of two) say they rely and lean on him on the holiday, and throughout the year . . . even when he’s out of state.
“He probably knows more than I do,” says Tara Lea, former president of the Ralston Chamber, which presents the parade and other events. When she started at the chamber four-and-a-half years ago, Leslie had already been a dedicated volunteer for more than a dozen years. Besides putting in a 12-hour day on the Fourth of July, Leslie has been a person the chamber could tap to be at before- and after-work meetings, to assist with events, and to, well, haul stuff. Leslie has worked for the moving company Chieftain Van Lines, located on Ralston’s Main Street, for more than 40 years. Back in the 1970s, before his volunteering officially began, he helped out at the Fourth of July parade when it was still growing by being in it.
“They (parade organizers) actually called to see if we wanted to put a couple of our trucks in the parade. So two of us spiffed up our tractor trailers,” Leslie says. “We were the last ones to go through the parade.”
Leslie (who remains a vice president at Chieftain) spends less than half of the year in the Omaha metropolitan area. During the colder months he’s “out of state, southerly.” But even when he’s not in Ralston, the chamber calls him, and he calls the chamber at least once a week.
“This is a fun group. Absolutely fun people,” he says. “[Even if] I’ve been gone for five months, I show up to the chamber luncheon…and it [is] like old home week seeing everybody.”
His volunteering passion was discovered when a former Ralston Chamber official asked him to join and help out. He hadn’t thought of being a volunteer earlier because “[no] one ever asked us to be.”
And just like a dedicated volunteer, he says he can’t imagine not helping out, seeing people he likes, and supporting his community. “Why not?” he says. “It’s a good time.”
Visit ralstonareachamber.org for more information.