Founders Weekend gears up for 'bigger and better' celebration in Lee

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LEE — An expanded, tasty and spiritually uplifting Lee Founders Weekend kicks off Friday.

The annual downtown street festival continues to grow with the debut appearance of two well-established organizations: the Flying Cloud Institute and the Berkshire Quilters Guild, both on Saturday. The event continues through Sunday.

"Founders gets bigger and better every year, like last year when we added fireworks on Friday night," said Joe Furgal, organizing committee chairman.

The weekend is sponsored by the Lee Chamber of Commerce, and Executive Director Colleen Henry is thrilled to finally add, after several years of trying, a guided historic house tour Saturday afternoon. "It's the Chestnut Lodge, once home of Dwight Baker, who warned townspeople about the [1886] flood," Henry said.

The tours are scheduled at 1 and 3 p.m. at 75 Chestnut St.

The Taste of Lee continues to anchor the Friday events, when staff from restaurants throughout town line the sidewalks along Main Street and serve up their specialties or dishes made just for the occasion. Main Street from Academy to Park streets will be closed to motor vehicle traffic to provide a pedestrian-friendly, three-hour event from 5 to 8 p.m. Live music, street artisans, crafters and a children's carnival will be mixed in among the food during the evening affair.

Fireworks behind the ballfield at Lee Bank, weather permitting, cap the evening's festivities.

Saturday remains the action-packed portion of the weekend, with plenty of activities, opening with a 5-kilometer race starting and finishing at Lee Middle and High School and wrapping up with Festival Latino of the Berkshires in the First Congregational Church park, according to organizers.

The Saturday centerpiece is the Hometown Parade, this year paying homage to the town's two oldest houses of worship: First Congregational Church (established in 1778) and St. Mary's Church (established in 1857.) Representatives from each church will be the parade grand marshals.

The Rev. Bill Neil, pastor at First Congregational, appreciates how the town recognizes the importance of its welcoming churches.

"When I arrived nine years ago, we changed the name of Fellowship Hall to Community Room, to show we want the community to fully access what we have to offer," Neil told The Eagle.

Neil's congregation provides a food pantry, serves weekly community meals and offers community outreach to help the needy in the Berkshires and through the Appalachian Service project Mission.

One of St. Mary's most significant contribution to Lee has been providing faith-based education for over 130 years. St. Mary's School offers prekindergarten through eighth-grade schooling for the town and surrounding communities. The parish also gets involved in numerous community events and projects.

"I love how active our parish members are in town," said the Rev. Brian McGrath. "I love how there isn't a great distinction between the parish and the town."

For a complete list of events and more details regarding Lee Founders Weekend, visit leechamber.org/festivals.


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