BARTOW – Nearly 40 years ago, Bartow Mayor Billy Simpson and former Bartow resident Frank Rouse co-founded a committee of volunteers to organize an annual Fourth of July celebration in Bartow.
Last week marked the first July 4 celebration in Bartow since Rouse died last summer. Rouse and Simpson were honored with a plaque made by committee volunteers during a July 1 Bartow City Commission meeting.
“This is to honor Frank Rouse, who was dedicated to this,” said longtime committee volunteer Pam Renew. “He would remind us all the time that his birthday was June 14 (Flag Day).”
Simpson and Rouse had been friends since the two were children.
“We met in 1948 in the fourth grade,” Simpson said. “He couldn't speak English. We had a little fun with that but he was determined (to become an American citizen).”
Simpson said Rouse’s family moved to the United States from Sicily around that time and that Rouse was the most patriotic person he has ever met.
In the 1980s, Rouse earned the nickname “Mr. Fourth of July” by the Bartow City Commission, which has recognized committee volunteers annually with proclamations.
“Frank Rouse and I got together one night and we wanted to do something to honor the city on this day,” Simpson said. “What is most important is not who started it but (that) without him, it kept going.”
During his career, Rouse worked at the 10th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office for seven years before starting his own law practice in Bartow for nearly 50 years.