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Older But Bolder, Niamtu Puts On a Show

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There will be fireworks tonight, though, ones that Niamtu has thought about for months — at least since his neighbor up the river wrapped up his show last year. The two have had a friendly rivalry for the last decade or so, alternating years to host.

That neighbor is George Hoover, president of Hoover & Strong, which makes specialty products for metalworkers across the country. He declines to discuss his "fireworks situation" for this story.

"Take that, Hoover!" one man barks when an especially dazzling combination of powder bursts into the dark sky, for some 300 guests and several spectators in boats anchored on the river to watch. On one of those boats is Hoover.

"They'll kid me," Niamtu says of his friends — "you're gonna have Hoover cryin'. But I can't compete with George on that level. He's the patriarch of fireworks." Still, he adds, "I'll go toe-to-toe to him any day on fun people, and the number of them."

"He's just one of the most unusual people I know," Channel 12 co-anchor Gene Cox says of Niamtu. "He just does everything, and he does it so well."

Cox chews the fat with Jimmy Dean during the fireworks, timed to music by Niamtu — including "Big Bad John," in honor of the musician. But it is the Jimi Hendrix version of the national anthem that really goes over. Dean's wife, Donna, "laughed heartily all the way through it," Cox says.

When the show ends, some parents drag their children to the car. Others stay to hear more of musician Jonny Mogambo, whom the Niamtus met in Vail. By midnight guests have left. Niamtu starts cleaning, hitting the sheets by 3.

"This may be the last year," he said last week. "It's tougher and tougher to do." — Jason Roop



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