TONAWANDA, NY – What began as a gathering among a small, core group of friends 30 years ago, is now a tradition which is still growing every Independence Day at Veterans Park.

“It’s just gotten bigger and it all started with just a few people who have been friends since high school,” said Debbie Patterson, one of the founders of the annual picnic, which has at times grown to more than 80 attendees.

“Now our kids have their own kids and they’re all here too,” added Cathy Knight, who was also among those who started the event.

“It’s important to us because it allows us to see each other at least once a year,” Knight said.

Even those no longer able to attend are remembered annually.

Jimmy Burns, another of the original attendees, died of cancer five years ago.

But every year, several of the men gather to pose for a picture, using their arms to spell out his name in his honor.

“Jimmy is still part of the fun, and we know he’s here in spirit,” Patterson said.

“We hope it’s a tradition that continues and that our kids will carry it on,” said Knight. “It’s what the Fourth of July means to us.”