WARWICK, RI – Saturday’s Gaspee Days Parade, renowned among Rhode Islanders, delighted spectators Saturday with musket reports, celebrity appearances, and community floats, presenting a poignant note as Warwick Veterans Memorial High School Band played their last march in the annual event.
In September, the school is converting to a middle school, and Warwick Vets students will be split between the Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.
A highlight of Gaspee Days events throughout May and June, the parade featured something for everyone, from marching bands to Shriner clowns in miniature cars, military, fire and police groups, Boy Scouts, church groups and even pet therapy dogs. In all, the parade included 12 divisions, ending with the sirens of modern and historic fire trucks. Along the parade route, members of the local militias would stop and fire their weapons, adding to the noise.
Officials on hand included Governor Gina Raimondo and her family, Judge (and former mayor) Francis X. Flaherty, Mayor Scott Avedisian, members of the City Council, members of the congressional delegation – Sheldon Whitehouse, Jack Reed, Jim Langevin, David Cicciline, state senators and representatives.
Parade goers brought folding chairs or claimed a curb along the route. Staking out their usual corner were members of the Nazareth family, at the corner of Audubon and Narragansett Parkway. Under a large red and white-striped tent, the family brought out their wicker furniture from their porch for their front row seats, their home facing scenic Salter’s Grove.
“This is so family friendly, so much simpler than Bristol [the Bristol Fourth of July parade], much less commercial, much more colonial,” said Alfred Nazareth III of the parade before its start. “Last year we were baking in the sun,” he added of this year’s weather, which started off under overcast skies. The parade finished before the rain started.
Nazareth will also oversee the annual “Blessing of the Fleet,” on Sunday, June 12, at the Rhode Island Yacht Club. “It’s our second one, last year was our first year. Father Young from St. Paul’s Church will be there doing the blessing. Last year we had almost 50 boats,” he explained. The boats ranged from kayaks and rowboats to power and sailboats. “Anyone who feels the need to be blessed,” he continued, adding that he and other local residents recently formed a “Friends of Salter’s Grove.” Nazareth has lived on the corner for two years, but previously lived “up the street,” and attends the parade each year.
As runners in the Gaspee Days 5K passed by his home, a few friends in the race commented “nice set up” of Nazareth’s tables, which included a nautical theme. “Stop by later for a bite to eat,” called out Nazareth in return.
“The weather’s perfect,” said Janet Russell, Committee member and this year’s Float Chairman. “It’s a great parade, all the Warwick high school bands are here. Cranston East and West couldn’t be here because they were graduating today,” she explained, adding that Channel 10’s Gene Valicente was Parade Grand Marshall, and Gina Cleary was Gaspee Days Committee Parade Chairman.
Russell said the committee would begin next fall to start planning for next year’s events.
Also sitting at the corner of Audubon were members of the Laorenza family, who brought ear protection for their young daughters against the routine loud reports of muskets carried by many Colonially clad marchers. A few streets down was Ginny Conway, 51, who held up a large sign with a 10 to cheer on her parade favorites. “It’s a tradition that we come to this intersection every year,” she said; she has attended each year since birth. “It’s only been canceled twice that I remember,” she added. She was sitting with her mother, Barbara Tougas, whom she referred to as “Mrs. Gaspee.”
A few more streets down sat Florence Scott, 88, holding up a large “Freedom” sign. She was sitting with her son Don Scott and his wife Diane, Country Club Drive residents who attend the parade each year. A favorite civic group for two-year old Cora Brault was the “T.F. Green PVD Pups,” certified pet therapy dogs. As the group waited for the parade to proceed, Cora was among dozens of young children who got to pet Harry.
Another favorite of the younger crowd – members of the Warwick Police Explorers who threw out handfuls of candy as they walked by.
The weekend of events also included a 5K road race (immediately preceding the parade), a colonial military encampment, a re-enactment of the burning of the Gaspee, music in the park, and the blessing of the fleet at the Rhode Island Yacht Club. For the full event schedule, visit the Gaspee Days Committee website.
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