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Update: This article has been updated to omit The Exceptional Sidekick Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs from organizations that participated in the parade. In addition, Cub Scout Pack 270 won Best Float and had been originally identified as Boy Scout 270.
Newtown’s 56th annual Labor Day Parade kicked off on Monday, September 4, at 10 am.
The sun was shining as Newtown residents and families from nearby towns lined the roadways eager for the parade to start.
Up by the Main Street flagpole, young Payton Ryan wore her bright pink heart sunglasses and kicked her legs up and down, excited to see her first Labor Day Parade with her grandfather, Allan Gambino.
Meanwhile, husband and wife John and Chris Wheway sat out on lawn chairs in front of Trinity Church, a tradition they have enjoyed at the Labor Day Parade for the past 25 years.
When the parade lineup began at the corner of Currituck Road and Main Street, a buzz of anticipation spread throughout the crowd. People stood from their seats and children ran closer to the road, positioning themselves in the best spots to scoop up the most candy possible.
The parade made its way down Main Street before turning left onto Glover Avenue and taking another left onto Queen Street.
In honor of this year’s grand marshal, Lee Paulsen of FAITH Food Pantry, the parade’s theme was “Labor of Love” and both food and monetary donations were collected for the local pantry.
For more than 30 years, Ms Paulsen has been an instrumental part of FAITH — which stands for Food Assistance, Immediate Temporary Help — assuring that Newtown residents in need receive food at no cost.
Ms Paulsen rode in a 1930 Ford at the beginning of the Labor Day Parade, excited to sit in the back rumble seat. Her husband, Chuck Paulsen, accompanied her and sat in the front of the vehicle.
“It was fun,” Ms Paulsen told The Newtown Bee after the parade.
Not only did Ms Paulsen see many friends and supporters of the food pantry, but she even received an impromptu donation of a large zucchini from Newtown Victory Garden founder Harvey Pessin.
Another unexpected occurrence that took people by surprise was a small accident with one of the parade’s most iconic staples, the Pyramid Shriners Motor Patrol cars.
While the group of about ten vehicles made its way down Main Street, doing their choreographed twists and turns, one car went out of formation down the hill and later rolled over at the four-way intersection.
Bethel resident Rich Mariano witnessed the event and said, “He was coming down pretty fast and there was a crowd of people right in front of the walkway… Fortunately he turned, otherwise he would have crashed into people.”
After the parade, The Newtown Bee spoke with Pyramid Shriners Motor Patrol’s Captain Bob Nash, who explained after experiencing a mechanical problem, the driver purposefully avoided hitting anyone and had a few bumps and scrapes from the incident, but is doing fine.
The Pyramid Shriners Motor Patrol’s motto is that they ride so kids can walk, and the little red vehicles have always been a popular part of the Newtown Labor Day Parade for children and adults alike.
The 2017 Labor Day Parade crowd was also awestruck by the many animals featured in the lineup, from groups like the Newtown-based Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard, Newtown Bridal Lands Association, as well as Newtown-Strong Therapy Dogs.
Sandy Hook resident Kath Yeaton walked with Newtown-Strong Therapy Dogs’ Grady in his first parade. He wagged his tail as children from the sidelines walked over to pet him and his other furry friends.
Large elaborate floats also dazzled the crowd, like the Newtown Girl Scout’s garden float, Barnum Festival’s glitzy senior and junior parade floats, and Rallying for Ryan’s Childhood Cancer educational display.
St Rose of Lima Catholic School’s red and white float also amazed the audience with its lively mascot Ramsey the Ram.
According to Principal Sister Colleen Smith, instead of throwing candy to paradegoers this year, the school chose to join the National Catholic Educators Association in its Student-to-Student response to Hurricane Harvey and put the money allocated to candy toward donations to help the relief effort.
There was no shortage of treats for children and grown-ups with a sweet tooth, though, as many floats tossed candies and handed out ice pops.
Between chewing those goodies, mouths were left agape for all the exciting emergency fire trucks, the many vintage vehicles and sports cars, the Wells Fargo stage coach, and, of course, the row of antique tractors.
All the participants of the Labor Day Parade finished in front of the grandstand, where parade judges Barbara Lesko, Sue Shpunt, Bruce Landgrebe, Barbara Lynch, Debbie Cooper, and Laura Hewitt selected the parade winners and runners up for categories like Best Float and Best Fire Company.
The morning after the Labor Day Parade, Ms Paulsen and many local volunteers assembled at FAITH Food Pantry to unload the generous donations collected during the parade.
“It’s a gift from God,” Ms Paulsen said, in awe of the outpouring of support for the food pantry.
She explained that prior to the parade, FAITH Food Pantry’s shelves were extremely low, but now almost every inch of space is being utilized to house the donations.
On top of all the items donated, Ms Paulsen reported that Labor Day Parade attendees also donated more than $2,200 to FAITH Food Pantry during the event.
“Newtown always comes through for us,” Ms Paulsen said graciously. “It’s a miracle.”
FAITH Food Pantry accepts donations of dry goods and nonperishable items at 31 Pecks Lane every Tuesday between 10 am and noon or on Thursdays between 6 to 7:30 pm. Donations are also accepted at the front entrance of The Newtown Bee, at 5 Church Hill Road, weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm.
For more photos of the Labor Day Parade, visit The Newtown Bee’s photo gallery.
First Place: Cub Scout Pack 270
Runner-Up: Newtown Congregational Church
BEST MUSICAL ENTRY — SENIOR
First Place: Fiesta Del Norte
Runner-Up: Cleo Blue Dance Band
BEST MUSICAL ENTRY – JUNIOR
First Place: NewArts
Runner-Up: Sons of Portugal
MOST PATRIOTIC ENTRY
First Place: Newtown Girl Scouts
Runner-Up: St Rose of Lima
BEST FIRE COMPANY
First Place: Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co.
Runner-Up: Newtown Hook & Ladder
BEST NEW ENTRY
First Place: Barnum Festival Junior
Runner-Up: Stephen Kopcik Modified Driver
MOST FITTING PARADE THEME
2nd Co. Governor’s Horse Guard pooper scoopers
MOST COLORFUL ENTRY
Connecticut Tiare Polynesian Dance Troupe
MOST CROWD-PLEASING ROOSTER AWARD
Silver Steel Band
BEST NONMUSICAL FLOAT
First Place: Wells Fargo
Runner-Up: Connecticut Men’s Roller Derby
LEGENDS & PIONEERS