Small town rising: Founder's Day Parade is all about community connections

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LEE —The Founder's Day Parade in this community is so quintessentially small town that those who were not among the 350-400-person strata of individuals who marched in the procession almost certainly knew someone who did.

"Yeah, most of the time you know half the people in this parade," said Lee native Ricky Gore, sitting with his four-year-old son, Declan. Declan didn't know too many marchers, but he was happy to watch the passing fire trucks, police cars and ambulances run their lights and sirens.

The Lee Founder's Day Parade is the centerpiece of the town's Founder's Day weekend. The weekend celebrates the founding of this community 240 years ago. In addition to a 50-unit parade on Saturday morning, there are events throughout the weekend.

These events include Thursday's cemetery tour, hosted by the Lee Historical Society; Friday's hugely popular Taste of Lee followed by a fireworks display and the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast on Sunday morning.

But Saturday is the biggest day of the weekend, with the parade, a classic car show in the town's Department of Public Works lot and the Latino Festival of the Berkshires in Church Park in the evening.

"So far, we are very happy with the turnout," said Colleen Henry, executive director of the Lee Chamber of Commerce.

"We had a great crowd at the Taste of Lee and we're very pleased with the attendance at the parade. It's a beautiful sunny day and we hope the good weather continues."

Henry is in her fourth year as executive director of the chamber. Creating the annual Founder's Day Weekend is a nearly year-round effort, she said.

"We'll take a month off and start thinking about next year in early November," she said.

If there is one thing about the parade, it is that it seems to emphasize the participation of children and young adults.

"Lee is a wonderful community," said Suzanne Hatch. She and her husband Robert, from Great Barrington, attended the parade because they knew some of the marchers.

"Look at who's marching now," said Suzanne Hatch, gesturing toward the Lee High School girls' soccer team marching and handing out candy. "Look at all the kids in this parade. Lee supports it's young people and I think that's great."

There were, in addition to the girls' soccer team, a host of younger participants, including the Latino Festival dancers; the St. Mary's Parish Drum and Bugle Corps, from St. Mary's School; the Lee Middle and High School Marching Band and the Gymnastics Unlimited Club. That is the local branch of a national organization that teaches gymnastics for boys and girls aged 3-18.

In addition, the Mount Everett Golden Eagles Marching Band participated, at one point performing Michael Jackson's hit "Thriller" and executing some neat choreography as they played.

"You don't really get more small town than that," said Robert Hatch.

There were older marchers, including the Lee police, fire and ambulance services, Lee Kiwanis, the Lee selectmen, state Rep. Williams "Smitty" Pignatelli, U.S. Rep. Steven Neal, several local businesses, locally-owned vintage cars, the Berkshire Highlanders Bagpipers, members of the Lee Historical Society, the Lee VNA and the Shriners.

The Grand Marshalls of the parade were Douglas and Sally Wilcox, longtime owners of Paperdilly, a venerable Lee business.

Everyone had their parade favorite.

"I enjoy the bands," said longtime Lee resident Ron Terry, watching with his wife, Carol.

Terry, who has been in town for 40 years, revealed the best place to listen to the music.

"We stand next to the reviewing stand," he said, "because you know the bands will play when they pass the stand."

The master of ceremonies was moonlighting Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay. Lindsay has been the announcer for the parade for several years. His familiarity with many of the marchers enables him to get off a few good-natured zingers. When the fire department marched by, he noted, "here comes the fire department. We hope they won't be needed today, but if they are, at least we know they're all in town."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977.


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