Old Neighborhood Parade brings masses and memories
BY: Catherine Miller | March 18, 2014
South Buffalo - As the Grand Marshall convertible ushered up South Park Avenue, Hamburg Street and O’Connell Avenue during the 21st annual “Old Neighborhood Parade” on March 15 it wasn’t unusual for people to stray from the packed sidelines to run up and shake hands with this year’s Grand Marshall, Jeremiah Hassett.
Jeremiah Hassett, an Old First Ward native, retired Buffalo police officer and Marine Corps veteran, retired from the Police Department as a Detective Sergeant after 36 years of service. Hassett was a founding member of the Police Emerald Society and active member of the PBA. He coached football, baseball, and had winning seasons in both sports, and apparently made a lot of friends along the way.
Followed by the marching members of the Hassett family, along with his extended family including the Suto, Shaffer, Sullivan and Fornan families, Grand Marshall Hassett and wife Maryann sat in the luxury of the convertible, with top open despite the cold temperatures, waving to the massing calling out to them.
It wasn’t just the Hassett family that attended in large numbers during this year’s parade.
Members of the Felchow, Gibbons and Bowman families traditionally plot their parade territory at the corner of Hamburg and South Park Avenue to view the marchers and family members on their clan’s float. This year there was talk of skipping the customary viewing of the parade due to the cold temperatures and unrelenting winds that were stirring. Tradition got the better of the family members as they took their rightful spot alongside the McMahon and Clancy groups for the colder than normal display of emerald pageantry.
“It’s tradition, we had to go,” admitted Grace Brightman, a member of the Bowman/Gibbons/Felchow clan who was celebrating her birthday week at the parade alongside family and friends.
The Police Emerald Society and the Greater Buffalo Firefighters Pipe and Drum Band were other forerunners of the parade, along with many of the Old Neighborhood clans such as the McDonald, Cleary, O’Neil and Leary families.
The tune “We are Family” was appropriately played as the family of Ryan Starzynski marched with their “Ryan Lives On” flag, in memory of Discovery School student Ryan Starzynski, who passed away in March 2007. Other marchers took to the streets in memory of a loved one, in support of military troops, and for other memorable and noteworthy people.
Special dedications were noted throughout the parade festivities in honor of the memories of Virginia “Ginny” Decker, Rita Deschamps, Gert Hoffstetter, and Kevin Wiles, each of whom helped in their own way for the strength and betterment of the parade, the Valley Community Center, and the community as a whole.
Irish dancing was a hit as usual during the parade with Rince Na Tiarna leading the pack of high stepping Celtic dancers. Peg Overdorf, Director of the Parade, could be seen whipping in and out of the parade route in her golf cart, ensuring a smooth pace for the marchers.
There’s something that sets the “Old Neighborhood” parade apart from other parades. While many parades are set within a city setting, the “Old Neighborhood” parade is one of community; one of family heritage and one of bonding family with livelihood. While many floats are dedicated to clans of the area, many others are dedicated to the unions that gave gainful employment to family members.
“I have been coming to the parade since I was a baby,” admitted Cheryl Martin, a 23 year-old receptionist at WNY Urology, “My father is an ironworker and some of my earliest memories of the parade are of sitting up on the ironworkers’ float and throwing candy out to the people watching the parade. My dad is out-of-town today but I still came. It’s a great time if you are Irish, and even if you’re not.”
Sponsored by the Valley Community Association, with Peg Overdorf as founder of the parade and Executive Director of the VCA, the parade is a traditional favorite with many from the area, with a seemingly record number of people coming out for this year’s parade despite the frigid temperatures.
The parade winds down the original Buffalo St. Patrick’s Day parade route. It welcomes those of Irish descent, those who live and work in the area, and all those that wish to celebrate their efforts.
It’s a people’s parade, showing support for friends, family, and fellowships.
When the parade ended, the Irish Hooley began. With Irish tunes from the Leftovers and Irish food and fare to be had at the Valley Community Center it wasn’t over for the marchers or the spectators. For them, the day had just begun.