Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade: A celebration for all

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Photo Gallery | Pittsfield 4th of July Parade

PITTSFIELD — City resident Stephen Williams, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, doesn't necessarily see Fourth of July as a holiday that recognizes just veterans.

"It's a holiday for everyone," he said, while waiting to march in this year's Fourth of July parade. "Veterans are a part of it. But I don't see it as just for veterans."

"That's why we have all sorts of people participating," said his friend, Les Losaw, a Vietnam veteran from West Stockbridge. "Scout troops, firemen, policemen, students. It's about diversity. That's what makes this country."

Thousands of people lined North Street on Monday morning to witness the city's annual parade. Just before he was about to step onto the street to march, Police Chief Michael Wynn said that, thus far, the crowd had been "respectful and polite."

The parade is a venerable tradition, one that Robert Hill and his wife, Patricia, of Lee, have been witnessing for decades.

"It's hard to count how many I've seen," said Robert Hill. "I'm 79, and I know I've been going every year since they began."

"We came with our children and they grew up," said Patricia. "Now, we come ourselves."

"It's about pride in your country," Robert said. "It's about pride in your community. And everybody has a good time."

Dorinda Bowlander of Stephentown, N.Y., has been making the trek to Pittsfield for several years, rain or shine.

"I've been here on nice days like today and on the rainy ones," she said. "It's a great parade."

The honorary Grand Marshal of the 2016 parade was Debra Jo Rupp, who has a home in New York City and Lee, is better known as being the mother, Kitty Forman, on "That 70s Show."

Rupp has lived in Lee for several years. Actually, since "That '70s Show" went off the air.

"This is such a beautiful part of the country," she said. "I love it here."

Initially, she admitted, when she was asked to be the Honorary Grand Marshall, "I thought it was going to be like those little parades I used to march in when I was a Brownie back home," she laughed. "But this is a big deal. This is a huge parade. I'm very impressed."

Alas, her interview with an Eagle reporter was curtailed. Several women in their 20s rushed up to her.

"Oh. My. God," said one. "You are so beautiful! I watched your show every week! I can't believe it!"

Cell phones were produced, and Rupp obligingly posed with six or seven young women as a reporter slipped away.

The 2016 parade grand marshal was World War II veteran Tony Pastore, who was the subject of a recent Eagle feature article.

A total of 174 units, including 15 floats, stepped onto North Street on Monday morning, according to Becky Manship, the parade's float coordinator.

One of the units was a group of Navy submarine veterans from a base in Wilbraham. Ray Scott, who was a senior chief for 23 years, most of them aboard the USS Wahoo, was asked to name the worst thing about being in a submarine for 23 years. Torpedoes? Depth charges?

"No," he said. "Sudden drops in elevation. You'd be cruising along, and all of a sudden you'd drop, say, 200 feet because of changes in the water. Used to scare the hell out of me."

Of course, Uncle Sam was in the parade. His real name is Fred Polnisch, a performing artist from Clifton Park, N.Y. That is his own goatee.

Polnisch/Uncle Sam is part of the Uncle Sam Chorus of Clifton Park. They are an all-male chorus and sing patriotic songs for parades and events.

A reporter was asked if he liked to sing. Yes, he said. The reporter was invited to stand on the float and sing. He declined.

Polnisch/Uncle Sam looked pretty snazzy in his Uncle Sam outfit, the obligatory red, white and blue top hat and tails, with red-striped pants. These items, he rents from a costume store in New York City. Except the shoes. The shoes are not spats, but red-and-white Nike running shoes, which are the sensible option for a two-mile walk.

As the beginning of the parade neared, the Berkshire Elite All-Star Cheerleaders began warming up. The Berkshire Elite Cheerleaders do this by throwing the smaller members of the squad high into the air. As they come down, three or four other squad members catch them in a web of arms.

No one was dropped, but it is unnerving to see close up. It's harder than it looks.

"We practice this all year," said Champagne Eurquhart, one of the coaches. "It gets easier as you learn to do it."

Throwing or catching? she is asked.

"Both," she said.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.

PARADE WINNERS

Fire departments

1. Alert Hose Co., Adams

2. Dalton FD

3. Lanesboro FD

Floats

1. Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity

2. Carpenters Union Local 108

3. Albany-Berkshire Ballet

Marching bands

1. Patriots Marching Band

2. Sunrisers Drum & Buggle Corps

3. 20th century

Mobile musical units

1. Whiskey City

2. Racing City Chorus

3. Past Tense

Classic cars

1. Robert Gaylord — 1968 Plymouth Fury convertible

2. Carol and Richard Thornton — 1971 Buick Skylark convertible

3. Michael Zawistowski —

1968 Mustang convertible

This article was modified on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, to correctly reflect that Whiskey City was the top mobile musical unit.


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