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TCNJ alum at center of largest 4th of July Festival in the country

The largest July 4th celebration in America takes place in nearby Philadelphia and TCNJ alum Michael DelBene ’01 will be right in the middle of it all.

Michael DelBene speaking at a podium.
Michael DelBene ’01

As president and CEO of non-profit organization Welcome America, Inc., DelBene is responsible for producing the Wawa Welcome America Festival, a celebration of the nation’s rich history through a series of no-cost programming focused on education, culture, civics, entertainment, community engagement, and volunteer service.

“This year’s event is the largest it has ever been,” DelBene said. “The planning for an event like this is basically 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 365 days. Our nonprofit organization has a team of 10 full- and part-time employees, but we also bring on dozens of consultants, agencies, vendors and partners that come together to deliver this festival to our community completely free of charge.”

The festival, which began over 30 years ago, has expanded in recent years and now offers area residents and visitors 16 days of free, family-friendly programming across the city, with a focus on arts, culture, diversity, education, wellness, history, and performance. Festival attendees can enjoy free concerts, fireworks, complimentary admission to a variety of museums, and Wawa Hoagie Day.

In 2021, the festival added a new slate of programming entitled “Freedom – Liberty,” in commemoration of Juneteenth. The expansion, in partnership with Philadelphia’s African American Museum and was designed by the museum to provide education and awareness of Juneteenth, and to explore the historical significance of and thematic ties between these two important U.S. holidays.

“That expansion really focused on cultivating a conversation and a dialogue through our festival around the various different expressions of freedom and liberty and independence in our country,” DelBene said. “July 4th is not a one size fits all holiday and lot of people don’t see themselves being celebrated with the traditional celebrations. We decided to expand the festival to really create something that reflects the lives, voices, and experiences of all Americans.”

DelBene credits his time at TCNJ, specifically his two-year term as student representative to the Board of Trustees and his participation in the presidential search that led to the hiring of R. Barbara Gitenstein in 1999, with helping to prepare him for his career.

“Being student trustee and being part of that presidential search committee gave me real insight into the high-level workings of corporate leadership and academic leadership,” he said. “It was an incredible experience and my time at TCNJ was really formative for me.”

In the winter, DelBene and his team also produce the month-long Philly Holiday Experience which consists of lightshows, a tree lighting celebration, a diverse nighttime holiday parade, waterfront fireworks, and holiday shopping among other activities and events.

Luke Sacks