The fire trucks are always a hit in the St. Patrick's Day parade. (Photo by Laurie Gordon)
By Laurie Gordon NEWTON - Irish eyes will be smiling on Saturday. In fact, eyes of all nationalities and ages will delight at Saturday's Sussex County St. Patrick's Day Parade, a tradition that celebrates not only Irish heritage, but community, and the promise of spring. Each year, a Grand Marshal is selected by the parade committee. This year, it wasn't just one, but a plethora as the committee selected the Vietnam Veterans of America, Wallkill Valley Chapter 1002 as the Grand Marshals. A Grand Marshal sash was presented to John Harrigan, Owen Martin and Bob Gilbert, and a specially designed Grand Marshal Pin to each of the approximately 245 members of Chapter 1002. The parade dates back to 2003. “A group of us started talking about it and had meetings, and the first parade was held in Sparta,” said Mary Harrington, co-chair of the parade committee. “The next year, we moved th Franklin and then the Newton mayor and council approved us coming to Newton. They've invited us back ever since.” Members of the Wallkill Valley Veterans Chapter live predominantly in the Vernon/Sussex area. Harrington said that the parade committee enjoys comradeship with them and have gotten to know the 40 plus who have come to their events. The chapter is the founder of the Northern New Jersey Veterans Memorial Cemetery located on Route 94. The Veterans also visit Vietnam Veterans Hospitals and bring meals to Veterans in need. They also help other veterans in need of counseling. “They are an amazing group of people and it is our great pleasure to honor them at this year's parade,” she said. “When I got the call from Mary and found out that we were going to be the honorees, I couldn't believe it.” said Harrigan, President and founder of Chapter 1002. He is anticipating about 40 chapter members marching on Saturday, but added, “There may be more because sometimes we come out of the woodwork.” The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1002 was formed in 2008 by Harrigan, Martin and Gilbert. The chapter received its official charter from the National Organization in February of 2009. Since the chapter's inception, its membership has continued to grow and now stands at over 240 Veterans and Associate members. “Our big project now is to create a building at the cemetery with an office and a chapel,” Harrigan said.”The proceeds from the St. Patrick's Day Parade breakfast and luncheon are going toward that, and we are so very grateful. It's the kind of thing where we just can't thank the committee enough for the honor of being the Grand Marshals and for their help with the fund raising.” “On March 25th everybody who has been a Grand Marshal this year throughout state is invited to the floor of the New Jersey Assembly,” Harrington said. “Representatives of Chapter 1002 will be in attendance, and it's a great memory for them and celebration of having been selected.” Aylia and Mara Mahon dance for An Clar School of Irish Dance, in Byram, which participates, annually, in the Sussex County St. Patrick's Day Parade. Aylia attends Kittatinny and her sister goes to The Stillwater Township School. They have practiced and performed at An Clar for many years and have each won awards in numerous Irish dance competitions. “Being in the parade means showing everyone what you do and why you do it,” Aylia said. “Dancing and marching in the parades lets us show everyone why we love it and keep doing it every year.” Mara noted the friendships she's made by marching. For the second year in a row, four different Irish dance schools be collaborating: An Clar, Heritage IDC, Lenahan and Wick-Hegarty. “It's so inspiring to see dancers from four different school and all ages come together to showcase their mutual love of Irish dancing,” said Lexa Hickey, owner and instructor at An Clar. Businesses in Newton enjoy the crowd on parade day. O'Reilly's Irish Pub sets up a beer garden outside of the restaurant. “People enjoy the beer garden and after the parade we get a lot of families coming in for lunch as well as those who have marched in the parade,” said Evin Joice, the manager at O'Reilly's. “It's always a great atmosphere and often we even get some bagpipers.” The parade also brings fond memories as it does for the Weber family. They lost their patriarch, Judge Frederick Weber, last year. He loved the St. Patrick's Day Parade and would watch, near the fire house on Main Street, surrounded by his family. "Fred loved the marching bands particularly because he played the sousaphone in the Newton High School Band so many years ago,” said his wife, Patricia Weber. “We always enjoyed going to this parade when our daughters were young, a tradition that was continued. At his last St. Patrick's Day parade, he was not only surrounded by me and our girls but the grandchildren as well." “My dad always loved a parade,” said his daughter, Heidi Amelia-Anne Weber. “I think he particularly appreciated the St. Patrick's Day parade in Newton because he not only enjoyed hearing the marching bands but especially the bagpipes. Dad loved this county and being a part of such community oriented events. We tried to always sit in the same spot on Spring Street which in many ways was representative of his career - near to the law firm where he clerked as well as the building where he had his law practice and of course, adjacent to the courthouse from where he presided over so many cases." The Sussex County St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee is a non-profit organization that was created to plan, organize, fund, and manage the Sussex County St. Patrick’s Day Parade each year. Year-round fund raising supports the cost of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, and proceeds from parade funds are donated to the chosen charity of the year, which is chosen by the Grand Marshals. Vietnam Veterans Chapter 1002 will lead more than 900 marchers down Spring Street in front of thousands of spectators. The parade begins at 11:30 a.m., and the line of march will proceed up Spring Street, turning right onto Moran Street and onto Memory Park. These streets will be closed beginning at 11 a.m. The parade will feature nearly 100 units, including Veterans and active members of the armed services, police, fire and EMS, elected officials, bands, floats, Irish step dancers, community organizations, local schools, accompanying service and antique vehicles, and a variety of pets. There will also be Irish theme characters and sweets and other treats for the children. “Come out and enjoy the parade,” Harrington said. “As the saying goes, 'everybody's Irish for St. Patrick's Day.” PARADE PARKING: Parking is available at the end of South Park Drive, Memory Park and the Parking Garage by the Court House. SHUTTLE BUS: Shuttle Bus will run from Memory Park to the Parade Line Up area beginning around 9:30. No Parking at the Line Up area.