County's St. Patrick's Day Parade this Saturday in Newton

15th annual event celebrating Irish culture

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  • A leprechaun on Spring Street in last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade Photos by Laurie Gordon

  • The bagpipers of yesteryear.

By Laurie Gordon

— I love a parade; The tramping of feet, I love every beat I hear of a drum. I love a parade; When I hear a band I just wanna stand And cheer as they come! - Music: Harold Arlen / Lyrics: Ted Koehler

This Saturday, Spring Street will turn into an Irish extravaganza as the 15th Annual Sussex County St. Patrick's Day Parade rolls down Newton's main thoroughfare. The 2018 parade will step off at 11:30 am.

In 2003, John Sullivan of Sullivan’s Gaslight Inn and Dennis Harrington, a local resident who was very involved in his community and loved all things Irish, pondered how great it would be to bring a St. Patrick's Day Parade back to Sussex County.

Harrington came home that evening, mentioned the conversation to the family and his daughters said ” Just DO IT!” And so the light was lit. Harrington and Sullivan started the ball — that is, the floats — rolling.

It was a big project to gather volunteers and others who shared their passion of making the parade a reality. The gentlemen almost called it quits many times, but undaunted, in 2004, It happened, and the first parade of this new parade regime stepped off on a bitterly cold morning. It was in Sparta, and they lined up in Lake Mohawk and then the band started and the parade was off.

The community loved it. A large group of people gathered in the square and clapped and cheered.

“It was as if we were as big as the NYC parade," Harrington said. "We were as proud as we could be. Although small in numbers, we were the Sussex County St.Patrick’s Day Parade.”

Harrington and his wife Mary now make up the parade committee.

The second year, the parade moved to Franklin. There were more participants and a bagpipe band joined the procession. It was year number three that brough the parade to Newton.

“That match fit us like a glove,” Harrington said, “ A town with sidewalks for viewers, parking for all and it is here where we have seen the growth and those marhcers and those viewing the parade. We have been lucky, Luck of the Irish, I am sure, and blessed with weather that allows us to parade on time even with snow at the bitter end, it was not enough to sideline us. We have been very lucky, indeed.”

This is how one of the most anticipated events in Sussex County got its start. Now, people don't seem to mind the temperature: the parade is a true sign that spring is on its way.

The community embraces the parade, and on Saturday, the local Moose Lodge will open at 7 am, and Tri County Bagpipers will regale the crowd. The event is open to the public and there will be food available and a place to cozy up before heading out to Spring Street. The Lodge is located at 214 Swartswood Road.

“The Moose has been serving breakfast to the public for a few year now,” said Moose member Jim Stark. “We are only allowed to have a few public events each year and this is a popular one. We open at 7 am with breakfast sandwiches, drink specials and bag pippers.”

Mary Harrington said, “We are proud to say we have grown in both our ranks as well as the size of parade and the on lookers alike. We started with our Lone Piper, young Robbie Henry who was just starting Pope John HS. Time has passed as our Lone Piper, Robbie is now a US Marine. Proud to say we knew him so long ago and proud of who he has become as a man. We also have nearly 1000 participants in our parade and we do not have any fee to be a marcher, just an application form.”

She added, “We have the great fortune to have had success in our fundraisers, which have allowed us to donate to the Grand Marshals Chosen Charities. Each year we have been able to make a contribution to a non profit organization in Sussex County. We hope to continue bringing the Irish culture, traditions and history to Sussex County. We have a wealth of talent in this area and surrounding counties, many who have shared their voice, dance and musical talents with our Committee. I believe we have only begun to tap into that talent.”

2018 Grand Marshal

This year's Grand Marshal is Betsy (Reilly) Sutherland. She was born in Newark NJ and ended up meeting her Brooklyn match, Gene Sutherland, on the boardwalk in Lake Mohawk. Until her husband's passing, they formed an unbeatable team for 60 years. Betsy and Gene Sutherland made Sparta their home and brought forth a family of eight children. As they did, they decided they needed to start a business to feed said children and in in 1964 founded Sutherland Packaging which is still a thriving company located in Andover .

Sutherland served as the secretary and treasurer at Sutherland Packaging. To fill all her spare time between helping to start a company and raising a large family, Betsy volunteered at the schools the family attended, Rev Brown on the Parent Guild and Pope John on the Booster Club. She volunteered at the Andover Nursing Home, served as a Eucharistic Minister, served on Our Lady of the Lake Welcome Committee, served on the Board of Trustees of Knoll Heights/View, served on the Zoning and Planning Board of Sparta (the first woman to serve in that position), has been involved as a member of Soroptomists International, Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council, Sussex County Arts Society, chaired the Sussex County Chapter of the Fresh Air Fund, and, in 1987, founded and for years Chaired the Board of Birth Haven on which she is still an active member. Birth Haven, a shelter home, has been one of Betsy’s biggest passions and has, over it’s 30 years, given a desperately needed helping hand to hundreds of expectant young mothers who were homeless with no where else to turn.

Also an animal lover, Sutherland has always included 2 to 3 dogs at a time and the occasional cat in her household, most of them rescue or in need of a home, and has enjoyed time with her horses since she was a young girl. Sutherland holds a Bachelor of Economics and Business from the College of Saint Elizabeth and a Bachelors of Humanities from Upsala College. She is also the proud grandmother to 15 and Great Grandmother to eight. Sutherland is the recipient of the Pope John XXIII High School Humanitarian Award, Patriot’s Path Boy Scouts Humanitarian Award, Catholic Caritas Award, and Certificates of Appreciation from the Human Services Community of Sussex County and the Andover Nursing Home. Sutherland has visited Ireland many times and is very proud of her Irish heritage.

This year

Mary Harrington said, “We start planning for the next year's parade the day after the current year's ends.”

Of Grand Marshal selection, she said, “The committee considers recommendations for Grand Marshal in June; the committee votes and the recommendation the gaines the majority of votes is offered the title of Grand Marshal. The two key considerations for a recommendation are: Irish Heritage and a distinguished record of community service. The official announcement of the Grand Marshal(s) is made on the Halfway to St. Patrick's Day celebration at the Irish Cottage Inn, Franklin. Among the festivities are: a children's parade/our self proclaimed shortest parade (52') in N.J., Irish Music and the announcement of the Grand Marshal(s).”

When it comes to organizing the parade, she said, “The uncertainty of the weather, even though we parade regardless of the weather conditions. However, weather conditions do affect who will participate in the parade.

And then there is the funding.

Mary Harrington said, “How do you raise funds to stage this amazing annual event? We are most fortunate to have a committee member who is very dedicated to fundraising by soliciting corporate sponsorships. In addition, all committee members help with fundraising at the various events that we hold prior to the parade.”

Newton Town Manager, Tom Russo, said, “Our Community Development Director Kimberly Williams is our point of contact with the Parade Committee. She ensures that all departments are available to assist in preparation and execution of a smooth event.”

Harrington said, “We have an excellent working relationship with the Township of Newton; we leave security and crowd control to the expertise of Police Chief Mike Richards and the Newton Police Force.”

Russo added, “One exciting thing to mention this year is that there are many merchants who are participating in a variety of sales and promotions before, during and after the parade. By way of copy I will ask Kimberly to email you the list directly as it shows the heightened level of interest by merchants and the Town in ensuring strong participation at the parade and afterwards.”

Nancy Woods, exeutive director of The Greater Newton Chamber of Commerce said, “The Chamber will be participating by marching in the parade. Any event that brings the community to the street exposes the stores to potential business. Even if folks don't buy on the day of the parade they are made aware of what is available on the street.”

Woods said she was hoping for "the luck of the Irish and a beautiful Irish spring day! After the parade, several of the stores in town are running promotions and the restaurnats will, of course, be serving specials.”

“Any person or group that gets up early on a cold wintery Saturday morning to march in or watch the annual Sussex County St. Patrick's is special to us," Mary Harrington said. "We much appreciate their participation.”

Temperature predictions for Saturday are a high of 37, so bundle up and come enjoy. For further information, visit or just show up on Spring Street on Saturday morning.

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