The Nicest Place in Missouri: Thousand Oaks Subdivision in Parkville

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Fireworks for the Ages"

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A community honors the memory of the local pyrotechnic master after tragedy strikes.

After nearly a decade of giving their neighbors a beautiful way to celebrate their love for America and each other, the Burnettes needed their community to come through for them—and it did, big time.

It all started when Jon Burnette, a newcomer to the Thousand Oaks subdivision in Parkville Missouri, discovered he could safely shoot off some fireworks (which are legal in the state) from an empty lot near his house.

Jon and his wife, Jackie, hadn’t planned on hosting Independence Day parties when they moved into the Kansas City suburb of about 5,000 people in 2011. They just thought they’d put on a little show for anyone who wanted to come by. So the couple went door-to-door passing out invitations. That first year, 72 neighbors showed up.

Soon enough, it was a beloved annual event. “By year five we had almost 300 people. It just kept growing,” Jackie recalls about an event that quickly took on its own nickname: Burnette’s Bash.

The year 2020 was going to be the biggest year yet. In January, Jon was declared cancer-free after a year-long bout with anal cancer, and in February the Kansas City Chiefs had won their first Super Bowl.

The couple took pyrotechnic safety classes, where they learned how to use more elaborate fireworks that they could choreograph with music. The next show was going to be a tribute to the Chiefs’ Super Bowl triumph. “Jon was a Chiefs fan since the day he was born,” says Jackie.

All of those plans changed in March 2020. When Jon began having shortness of breath, Jackie took him to the emergency room to be examined. As a nurse, she knew his symptoms of high blood pressure and a fast heart rate were concerning. Due to worries he was contagious with COVID-19, Jon was turned away by doctors at the hospital without an exam and told to return if he worsened. A few days later, on March 27th, Jackie came home from a 12-hour nursing shift to find that Jon had passed away in their home.

“His death was totally unexpected,” Jackie says. The couple would have been married 31 years on June 3. “I still don’t have an official autopsy report, but the one I have says he had massive bilateral lung clots,” she says, adding that an ER in normal operating mode likely would have caught the problem. “COVID-19 wasn’t the cause of death, but the fear of it was,” she says.

Despite the pandemic, the neighborhood quickly went into “Burnette’s Bash” mode to help Jackie. Neighbors arranged meal trains, and sent cards and flowers. Next-door neighbor Carlos mowed the lawn. Folks showed up with bouquets. Neighbors checked in every day to show they care.

fireworksCourtesy Jackie Burnette
What better way to honor the “neighborhood pyro” than with a fireworks display?

And then, to honor their beloved “neighborhood pyro,” the Thousand Oaks residents gathered funds to put on their own fireworks show. More than 28 families coordinated the event, and during the 25-minute display, neighbors stood at a safe distance from one another and enjoyed the show.

Jackie says she plans to host one last “Burnette Bash” on July 3 to thank her neighbors for their kindness this year, and to honor her husband and the football team he loved. Jon’s favorite restaurant, a tiny diner called LC’s, will cater the event.

“I really want to do this to thank the neighbors,” says Jackie. “Of course they’ve already said they’ll do whatever they can to help—and 150 have already said they’re coming.

“We told the coroner’s office when they took him, ‘At least he got to see the Chiefs win the Super Bowl before he left.’” And Jackie has a good feeling he’ll be watching the show from above.

The Nomination

My husband, Jon, and I have lived in a little community called Thousand Oaks since 2006. It’s in a little town in Parkville, Missouri, which is a little suburb outside of Kansas City. Jon and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in June. For the last 10 years my husband, Jon Burnette, and I along with our children, Jennifer and Jackson, have thrown “The Annual Burnette Bash” to celebrate Independence Day. We would do our Annual Burnette Bash on July 3rd because we did not want to interfere with other people’s Fourth of July plans.

The Annual Burnette Bash started in 2011 with 72 friends and neighbors. I would guess that about a third of them were neighbors. The following year we had over 100 and probably 40 percent were neighbors. Last year in 2019 it grew to almost 300 people. Over 60 percent of them were neighbors. (Jennifer use to joke, “The neighbors can’t call the police if they are all at your house.”)

Every June, we would go around the neighborhood and hand out invitations. We wanted to get to know our neighbors. We’d introduce ourselves to new neighbors and mention our party and invite them to it. Some would say, “you are the one who does the fireworks?” Jon got a kick out the fact that people knew about it before they ever met us.

We would provide meat and drinks and ask that others bring a side or dessert. We always had so much food. We had the perfect yard for a party. We had a large backyard with green space that backed up to a walking trail and wound around a pond. We would block off the trail and set up along the path and pond. Jon had an area roped off to keep people back and safe. We took notes because every year it got bigger and better. Jon had an electronic remote system that allowed him to choreographed the fireworks to music. He did patriotic tunes and a tribute to our veterans with a flag ceremony and the Star-Spangled Banner. And he had a HUGE finale. His favorite trick was to do a fake finale and then do another couple of songs and then have the real finale, usually to Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue. We even joined a fireworks club, PGI (Pyrotechnic Guild International) so we could get ideas and be safe with the show. The kids even went with us to several conventions. We loved that it was something our grown kids loved to do with mom and dad. Jon always wanted to outdo his show from the previous year.

In August of 2018, Jon was diagnosed with cancer. He had a couple of rounds of chemo and 30 radiation treatments and he was considered “cured”. He just had to do frequent surveillance. 2019’s show was especially special since it was our way of showing everyone how well he was doing. Little did we know it would be his last.

By end of February we were planning 2020’s show. Jon had lots of ideas. Jon was a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan and had converted me into a die hard fan as well. We knew he wanted to do a special tribute to the Chiefs and their Superbowl win.

By mid-March social isolation became the new “thing”. Jon had a few days of shortness of breath but no other symptoms. On Friday evening, March 27, 2020, I came home from my 12 hour shift as a nurse and found he had passed sometime during the day at home. It was very unexpected and his cause of death was initially unknown. He had a clean PET scan in January showing his cancer was gone. We practiced social distancing for 9 days until we received news that his COVID test was negative.

Telling the kids was the hardest thing I have ever done. After I called my older daughter, Jennifer, she reached out to Kyla, a neighbor she had babysat for in the past. She did not want mom to be alone while waiting for EMS and the police to come. Kyla arrived at the same time my son, Jackson, arrived and Jennifer arrived shortly after. The police would not let us in the house until the Medical Examiners office had taken Jon away. Kyla stayed with the family for most of the evening. The kids and I weren’t allowed back in the house for almost 4 hours.

The next day Kyla let the other neighbors know of the loss of their resident Pyro. One neighbor helped organize a food train. In the meantime, Kyla and a couple of the neighbors wanted to do something special and they started discussing it with other neighbors what they could do to show their love and support to the family. Four days later, they made their own special tribute to the family. A couple of neighbors handled the calls to gather donations. Another neighbor had his own connection and worked on purchasing fireworks. Together over 28 families came together and put together their own fireworks show and let the rest of the neighborhood know what they were planning.

For 25 minutes the residents of Thousand Oaks put on a show to honor their neighbor and friend Jon in a way that had meaning to all of them. They started the show with fountains all around the pond. There were at least a dozen fountains that were lighted by hand by different neighbors. Other neighbors gathered along the sidewalks and streets to watch this special tribute. All while practicing social distancing.

As I said before, Jon and I wanted to get to know our neighbors. Know our neighbors we did. Jon would have been so proud that his neighbors honored him in this way.

I have been a nurse for almost 34 years at a large and very well respected hospital in Kansas City. Our hospital cancelled elective surgeries, restricted visitors and had employees self monitor. Many staff were told to work from home. I was considered essential and still had to report to work and wear a mask at all times. I was able to take a leave of absence after my husband and father-in-law passed. At the time of this writing I still do not have an “official” cause of death but I have been told the preliminary findings are a massive bilateral pulmonary embolism (blood clots to both lungs). Ironically, Jon had a surgery scheduled two days prior to his death that was cancelled because he was short of breath and fears of COVID. A surgery that was deemed essential and moved up 12 days ahead. We now know that while COVID was not the cause of death, the fear of COVID ultimately caused his death. Again ironically, we buried Jon on the day that his surgery was originally scheduled.

My community is great. My neighbors are great. My co workers are great. The love and support I received during this time was incredible. I had a co worker (Aneisha) who lives close by set up a meal train on Face Book. I had to tell her my neighbors already had something going on for the next week, so the co worker pushed it back a week. My neighbors joined in on her thread and my family was fed for the next 2 weeks. The cards, flowers, messages and food were heart felt and appreciated by my family. My next door neighbor, Carlos, has mowed my lawn every 5-7 days since Jon passed. He even weed wacks every time. I told him, “Jon would not have done that every time.” His comment was, “It’s no problem, I enjoy it. I got nothing better to do.” I have had neighbors stop me when I am walking the dog and ask how I am doing. They truly care. And they are thrilled to know that I am going to try and put together one last Burnette Bash!

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