Good works: Patrick Bonadurer, La Crosse Skyrockers | Local News


Most people know the La Crosse Skyrockers from their 4th of July fireworks on the Mississippi River and their New Year’s Eve shows at Grandad Bluff, but the La Crosse Skyrockers do so much more in the community. Their purpose is to advance the study and practice of the pyrotechnic arts by encouraging and assisting groups and individuals to learn and practice the techniques, principles and arts of pyrotechnics.

To that end, they gave fireworks safety lessons to La Crosse Parks and Recreation’s youth programs and scouts. And they’ve lit up the night sky for many organizations and events, including Freedom Honor Flight, Moon Tunes, and Rotary Lights, among others, bringing a special spark to community events for 93 years.

Patrick Bonadurer is the former president and CEO of Skyrocker. For 52 years, he has spent every New Year’s Eve atop Grandad Bluff.

What’s the craziest Skyrockers story you like to tell your friends?

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Having a daughter born on the 4th of July was definitely a highlight (I still went on the Riverfest Show), but the craziest story has to be when my brother graduated from UW-L. The Skyrockers had a big show to shoot in May for a big convention at La Crosse Center. We were a large family and we all enjoyed the time spent together setting up and shooting the series. My brother knew about the show and was sorry he missed it. After the graduation ceremony, he found himself in Riverside Park with many friends and fellow graduates and said that his brothers were going to do some fireworks for his graduation. Well, it was a great show, and the Riverside band couldn’t believe such a display for graduation. It was all a ruse. But the delegates loved it and their stay at La Crosse.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

If I could have one super power, it would be the ability to turn back time. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I really wish I could do things over again. This applies to all of life, but I’ll relate it to fireworks. Planning a fireworks display is something members appreciate. As a club, it’s something we discuss all year round. It’s easy to do on paper, but when it comes down to it, things get tricky. With fireworks, you don’t get practice or tests. You use your best wits in the hope that it actually works the way you intended. Often things go wrong for us, but the audience doesn’t even notice. We strive for perfection, but fireworks (timed controlled explosions) don’t always work the way you want them to. This perfect show is our ultimate goal. We’re so close, but we notice things that could have been better, and we don’t get any change. It is, however, what keeps us excited for the next display.

What’s your favorite Skyrockers show?

My favorite show is definitely New Years Eve. The story and the challenge of shooting a frozen cliff intrigue me. The show started in 1929, just after the Great Depression. Times were tough but ten businessmen (my grandfather was one) chipped in money to shoot fireworks from the top of Grandad Bluff to welcome a new and hopefully better year . The tradition continues to this day. Some years the conditions are bitter, but the show goes on as people everywhere enjoy the spectacle from below. It’s a long day; we’re up there for 16-17 hours setting up, filming and cleaning. Skyrocker members endure this and honor those who did it for the first time. For the first seven years, the shelter we all know wasn’t even built yet. The camaraderie we all have during this long day is truly special. It is Wisconsin’s longest running public broadcast.


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