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Parade in honor of Amherst's 250th birthday marches on despite rain

At 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, Amherst Town Committee member and organizer of the Amherst 250th parade Patricia Wagner was awoken by a mysterious phone call.

“Is the parade still on for tomorrow?” asked the voice on the other line. “Yes, it is,” confirmed Wagner. “Rain or shine.”

For a day that was over four years in the making, Sunday’s 250th Anniversary parade marched on through adverse weather conditions, attracting over 1,000 people from Amherst and surrounding towns.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Wagner. “We obviously wish the weather could have been better, but we had to work with it.”

Wagner, a third-generation Amherst resident, has been planning the anniversary parade since the Town Committee established this Sunday as the date for the event in May of 2006. Once the date was set, Wagner and fellow members of the Town Committee began the long process of contacting over 100 local bands and community organizations to get involved with the parade. Boy Scout troops, local businesses, schools, clubs and churches all signed up to march down Massachusetts Avenue and along North Pleasant Street in downtown Amherst.

Aside from a handful of bands that cancelled at the last minute because of the weather, the highly anticipated event went on as planned. To quote an all too common cliché, those involved weren’t going to let the weather “rain on their parade.”

“We had put so much work into putting this day together,” explained Wagner. “There was nothing that was going to prevent it from happening. Plus, it would have been impossible to reschedule.”

Members of the Amherst Town Committee sought help from its counterpart across the bridge in Northampton, which in 2006 organized their own town’s 350th anniversary parade. Many of the same bands that performed at the Northampton parade were the first to be invited to entertain the people that gathered in Amherst on Sunday.

Local police and fire departments were on hand all day to oversee that everything went smoothly, shutting down roads where the parade took place and detouring traffic. They were joined by over 75 volunteers who assisted with anything from directing traffic to hoisting parade banners. Wagner says she spent the whole summer working with the Amherst police and fire departments to plot the best route for the parade and figure out necessary safety precautions.

The parade was particularly significant for lifelong Amherst residents, some of who were around to witness the 200th Anniversary parade in 1959. Wagner recalls watching the last parade in Amherst as a little girl, climbing on her father’s shoulders to get a better look at the marching men in blue.

“It was amazing to witness,” she said. “The community really came together to make it work.”

Another longtime Amherst resident, Patricia Holland, agreed with the strong feeling of community togetherness, despite the poor weather conditions that could have easily confined people to their homes. “I liked the fact that it brought out people from all parts of Amherst life,” said Holland. “It was too bad that it had to rain, but everyone was all smiles.”

On Amherst’s official website (Amherstma.gov), one can learn the history of the town, back to its establishment as a township in 1759. The town was named after Jeffery Amherst, a war hero of the French and Indian War, who according to popular legend, won Canada for the British and banished the French from North America. His name is still commemorated at the historic Lord Jeffery Inn which has played host to Amherst visitors for over 150 years.

For many members of the Amherst community, the anniversary parade was an important historical benchmark. Anyone who was around to witness the last parade, 50 years ago, has seen Amherst transform from a quaint farming community to thriving hub of college education.

Scanning the crowd on Sunday, amidst the steady rain and gray skies, Amherst’s most loyal stood along the parade route to be apart of a historic day. Children huddled under umbrellas, peering through the masses to catch a glimpse of the marchers. As the parade came to an end at the Haigis Mall on the University of Massachusetts campus, the final banner read, “Thank you for coming! See you in 2059!” For those children that will someday raise their own families in Amherst and bring them to the 300th anniversary parade, one can only hope for a little more sunshine.

Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano can be reached at steinber@student.umass.edu.

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