While standing on the sidelines and tapping our feet to the marching bands or laughing at the passing clowns, it’s easy to think that parades just happen with little forethought – the marchers show up an hour ahead of time and, at the appointed hour make their way up the street. Simple, right?
Far from it for the dozens of volunteers who plan the annual Park Road Parade that is scheduled for Oct. 6.
According to organizer Richard Patrissi, the planning for this year's parade began a mere two weeks after last year's – and it's that way every year. Patrissi and a group of dedicated volunteers spend the year exchanging numerous emails, meeting five times in person, advocating for sponsors and donations, contacting participants and, on parade day, working in the streets.
It’s time-consuming for the more than 30 individuals involved in the planning. While it's a lot of work, they must think it's worth it, as many of them have been offering their services every year for more than a decade.
This year’s parade will be the 15th for the road that Patrissi, a former owner of Patrissi Nursery on Ringgold Street, calls the “core business and residential area of West Hartford.” He, along with other members of the Park Road Association, organized the first parade to celebrate the completion of a two-year road construction project.
Since its inception it has grown to be a major town event drawing over 7,000 people from all over the area.
But what does it take to get what appears to be a well-oiled machine up and running year after year?
“We have a planning session about two weeks after the completion of the previous parade where we hash over any of the mistakes that we noticed and any improvements that we can step up to in the future,” states Patrissi. He adds, “Our committee always come to the meetings with fresh ideas and how to make the parade more efficient.”
Another component of the tradition the Park Road Parade has become is the celebrity breakfast in May. This fundraiser usually yields around 20 percent of the $8,000 required to stage the parade.
The rest of the funds come from private donations and contributions. Patrissi is pleased to note that Aetna has become a corporate sponsor of the parade for the first time this year, making a significant contribution to underwriting the community celebration.
Organizing the 100 constituent marchers that sign up is crucial for the timing and fluid movement of the parade. Patrissi says that the parade is broken down into seven divisions, and a head volunteer and an assistant are assigned to each section the day of the parade. Their job is to ensure that the organizations maintain a proper position as they make their way up the road. The volunteers walk beside each one, guiding them to make sure that they stay close enough to the group ahead of them. This helps to assure that there are not many empty stretches along the way.
Occasionally, these gaps cannot be avoided; for instance, the perennially popular Conard High School band will stop to play several times along the way. This holds up the line in the rear and creates a void as the marchers ahead keep walking. In those cases, Patrissi notes, the clowns and stilt walker will fill in the empty spots with their entertainment.
Sometimes the parade’s pace must slow down a bit to accommodate the shorter strides of some of its marchers, as in the case of Elmwood restaurant Corner Pug’s canine extravaganza of 125 pug dogs. “It takes a little time and effort to make them go along in a uniform manner,” chuckles Patrissi.
While there are many repeat performers taking part in the parade, volunteers are always looking for three or four new ones to add to the mix to provide the unique variety of entertainment, and to avoid it becoming “the same old, same old” Patrissi says.
This year, in addition to old favorites like The Windsor Fife & Drum Corp, the Manchester Regional Police & Fire Pipe Band, The Heartbeat Dixieland Jazz Drum Corps and bands from Conard and Sedgwick schools, a few new entries will be sure to please. One, the Brazilian Samba Band, hails from the University of Hartford. The school’s musical coordinator, Ben Toth, suggested to parade organizers that they review a YouTube video of the band, and all agreed that they would make a welcome and fun addition to the parade.
Another challenge every year is arranging for a Grand Marshal to lead the parade. Patrissi states that when searching for that special person, he likes to keep it local since the parade represents our community and small business. This year, he says, the selection was made easy as both Joe Furey, Chief Meteorologist for FOX Connecticut and CBS Radio Hartford, and Rachel Lutzker, traffic reporter for FOX 61, both said yes readily. Patrissi said that Furey did not even hesitate telling him that he ate breakfast at Park Road’s Effie’s restaurant “all the time.”
With one week to go before this year’s parade, the volunteers are readying themselves for the big day. Signs announcing the parade have been in place for the past couple of weeks. A final meeting will be held on Tuesday to pass out t-shirts with the Park Road logo on them. Last minute details will be ironed out and assignments finalized.
Patrissi is very appreciative of the town’s cooperation and support as they supply 30 trash barrels and two-way radios for the volunteers. Local businesses add their support on the morning of the parade as A.C. Petersen’s donates coffee and Shop Rite of Kane Street supplies food for the parade volunteers.
As the start time approaches, everyone has taken his place. People and organizations line Park Road from Prospect Avenue to the parade starting point, Ringgold Street. It will take an hour and half for all to make their way west to the ending point at South Quaker Lane – an hour and a half of fun that took a year to plan.
But, Patrissi remarks, he speaks for all of the volunteers when he says that all of the effort put into the planning is rewarding. “The people who participate in the parade on a volunteer level are all family people from West Hartford. They all have a strong feeling for Park Road and the West Harford community. They love to be involved with this and when they see the looks from the people’s faces and the applause that they get from people up and down the road, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Come see the fruits of the volunteer’s labor when the 15th Annual Park Road Parade is held on Oct. 6 at 10:30 am. After the parade, two of the participants will be performing at local venues. The Heartbeat Jazz Band will be at A.C. Petersen’s and the Boys of Wexford will be at Effie’s.