September 25, 2008
Birthday bash draws thousands
and parade cap yearlong celebration
By Michael Kane BANNER EDITOR
WEST BOYLSTON — Unofficially, the
celebration of the so-called “Bicentennial Weekend” started with
Friday’s high school football game and ended Monday, when many took
the chance for a collective “phew.” In between, thousands visited
West Boylston for the weekend full of events that included concerts,
plays, a college fair, food, a parade and fireworks. And, by Monday,
organizers were calling the weekend a success.
Friday, the 2008 Lions football team took halftime to recognize the
1988 undefeated Super Bowl team (see story, page 16). While that
ceremony was happening outside the school, people inside were being
treated to a concert of the Boston Pops Beacon Quintet and the
Worcester Men of Song in the official kick-off of the West Boylston
Arts Foundation Arts Festival, a two-day event that raised an
estimated $20,000 for the art and music programs of the West
Boylston school district.
“Everyone I talked to who went to the Pops concert was blown away,”
said Mark Baldi, Arts Foundation member and festival organizer.
And the atmosphere appeared to have carried over into Saturday, when
artists, authors, colleges and musicians came together for an
all-day party that stretched from inside the schools to the football
and baseball fields around Goodale Park.
“I was really pleased with the reception by the residents of West
Boylston,” Baldi said. “Everybody who went to the festival, for the
most part, really enjoyed it.”
Put in charge of the weekend’s weather, which remained sunny right
up until the fireworks, was Bicentennial Committee Chairman Emeritus
Charles Hudson, who the committee members jokingly voted to the
position a few days earlier.
“That was my job, how do you think I
did?” Hudson said with a laugh Saturday afternoon.
Weather aside, the Arts Festival was a community event, Baldi noted.
Food vendors included Bob’s Hot Dog Truck and a Boy Scouts food
tent, along with the American Legion Post 204, which agreed to hold
a chicken barbeque, something it normally does every Memorial Day,
according to Commander Steve Sulkoski.
Mason Ronn, 6, of Boylston, rode
in Boylston’s engine 2 in the parade, driven by his father,
Deputy Chief Matt Ronn.
West Boylston Athletic
“I like that the
American Legion was there,” Baldi said. “They are an important part
of the community to have been involved.”
Additionally, The Friends of the Library organization, the Ladies
Fire Auxiliary and the West Boylston Athletic Association took part
in the festival, Baldi said.
While Baldi pointed to the community, Arts Festival Publicity
Chairwoman Carrie Wattu gave credit to the organizers for the amount
of work put into the weekend.
“I felt such appreciation to the festival organizers, Mark and Liz
Baldi and Sarah O’Connor, for sacrificing so much so that this
enthusiastic and ambitious event could bring us all together,” Wattu
said. “It takes a special touch to get so many high-quality
entertainers and cultural groups to donate their time during high
festival season, and the Baldis and Sarah O’Connor did it all for
The sight of so many children taking advantage of everything from
wearing costumes and creating crafts to socializing with their
friends is another positive from the day, Wattu said.
“It provided such a needed lift to our spirits, which have been
beaten down during the recent budget cuts,” she said.
The next day, both the Webelo Scouts and the Cub Scouts were on hand
to help clean the fields. And they weren’t alone.
“People were there when we needed them,” Baldi said. “Tom Kane and
his wife were helping to clean up the lower field. Here is the
superintendent of our schools helping to clean up. He’s not just
some administrator. He showed up. (Town Administrator) Leon Gaumond
was there. All of the selectmen were there. There was a lot of
support throughout the community. They pitched in. They didn’t just
show up and shake hands. They were there helping.”
Baldi said feedback was also positive from the performers who
attended the festival.
“A lot of them asked that, if we do this again in the future,
‘please include us,’ ” he said.
While the music was still playing on the all-purpose field, an
estimated crowd of 3,000 was gathering for the return of an old
tradition to West Boylston – a community bonfire – albeit on a
larger scale than usual.
Two weeks of lugging and about four hours of arranging some 800
pallets, fence posts and hay bales at the base of the pool hill left
the attendees feeling the heat as far away as the high school
“This was just what we wanted,” Selectman and Bicentennial Committee
member Valmore Pruneau said. “Nice and even (burn), everyone is
enjoying themselves. It’s a nice time.”
“It’s just like old times,” Selectman and Bicentennial Committee
member Allen Phillips said, noting the bonfires used to be held
every Fourth of July.
By Sunday at noontime, people had started to stake their spots along
Route 12 and the common for the bicentennial year’s major event, the
With more than 2,000 marchers in 115 units organized in five
divisions, the parade lasted just over 2 1/2 hours, Parade Committee
Chairman Christopher Rucho said. Making sure things went well was a
team of more than 30 volunteers who assembled the parade at the
start, and disassembled it two miles later at Goodale Park.
“I think it went great,” Rucho said. “At assembly, everything went
great. The people who worked with us at assembly and disassembly
just kept everything in order.”
The parade itself included multiple musical acts, including three
marching bands, three Shriners groups, marking the first timer in
several years the Boston and Springfield Shriners have been in the
same Central Massachusetts parade, a flotilla of classic cars and
floats representing many local businesses.
Rucho, whose entire family either worked or participated in the
parade, joked that he only saw the parade as it marched away from
him outside Salter College.
“I’m looking forward to watching the parade on cable access,” he
said on Monday. “My understanding is they are editing it right now.”
But he was on hand when many of the musical acts, including the
Branches Steel Band, the New Liberty Jazz Band, the Philadelphia
Mummers and the UMass Marching Band, kept the crowd at Goodale Park
entertained up until the fireworks.
“I’ve been getting feedback from people on the day as a whole and
everybody loved it,” Rucho said. “These are memories people are
going to keep forever, from the parade through the fireworks. That’s
a nice thing to hear.”
The positive atmosphere at Goodale Park was obvious to Bicentennial
Committee member Joe Lajeunesse.
“I love this town,” Lajeunesse said. “This right here is what ‘town’
is all about.”
Looking forward after a successful weekend, Baldi said he hopes the
Arts Foundation can hold more events that reach beyond parents and
into the community as a whole.
“We want to reach the residents and show them the importance of arts
in the town,” he said.
However, with another milestone town anniversary decades away, there
are no immediate plans to repeat the grand parade any time soon.
“I did tell people on the committee that we should start getting
ready for 25 years from now,” Rucho said with a laugh. “I didn’t get
much of a response.”