September 25, 2008
Birthday bash draws thousands
Festival, fire and parade cap yearlong celebration
WEST BOYLSTON — Unofficially, the celebration of the so-called “Bicentennial Weekend” started with Friday’s high school football game and ended Monday, when many took the chance for a collective “phew.” In between, thousands visited West Boylston for the weekend full of events that included concerts, plays, a college fair, food, a parade and fireworks. And, by Monday, organizers were calling the weekend a success.

Friday, the 2008 Lions football team took halftime to recognize the 1988 undefeated Super Bowl team (see story, page 16). While that ceremony was happening outside the school, people inside were being treated to a concert of the Boston Pops Beacon Quintet and the Worcester Men of Song in the official kick-off of the West Boylston Arts Foundation Arts Festival, a two-day event that raised an estimated $20,000 for the art and music programs of the West Boylston school district.

“Everyone I talked to who went to the Pops concert was blown away,” said Mark Baldi, Arts Foundation member and festival organizer.

And the atmosphere appeared to have carried over into Saturday, when artists, authors, colleges and musicians came together for an all-day party that stretched from inside the schools to the football and baseball fields around Goodale Park.

“I was really pleased with the reception by the residents of West Boylston,” Baldi said. “Everybody who went to the festival, for the most part, really enjoyed it.”

Put in charge of the weekend’s weather, which remained sunny right up until the fireworks, was Bicentennial Committee Chairman Emeritus Charles Hudson, who the committee members jokingly voted to the position a few days earlier.

“That was my job, how do you think I did?” Hudson said with a laugh Saturday afternoon.

Weather aside, the Arts Festival was a community event, Baldi noted.

Food vendors included Bob’s Hot Dog Truck and a Boy Scouts food tent, along with the American Legion Post 204, which agreed to hold a chicken barbeque, something it normally does every Memorial Day, according to Commander Steve Sulkoski.

Mason Ronn, 6, of Boylston, rode in Boylston’s engine 2 in the parade, driven by his father, Deputy Chief Matt Ronn.

West Boylston Athletic Association

“I like that the American Legion was there,” Baldi said. “They are an important part of the community to have been involved.”

Additionally, The Friends of the Library organization, the Ladies Fire Auxiliary and the West Boylston Athletic Association took part in the festival, Baldi said.

While Baldi pointed to the community, Arts Festival Publicity Chairwoman Carrie Wattu gave credit to the organizers for the amount of work put into the weekend.

“I felt such appreciation to the festival organizers, Mark and Liz Baldi and Sarah O’Connor, for sacrificing so much so that this enthusiastic and ambitious event could bring us all together,” Wattu said. “It takes a special touch to get so many high-quality entertainers and cultural groups to donate their time during high festival season, and the Baldis and Sarah O’Connor did it all for us.”

The sight of so many children taking advantage of everything from wearing costumes and creating crafts to socializing with their friends is another positive from the day, Wattu said.

“It provided such a needed lift to our spirits, which have been beaten down during the recent budget cuts,” she said.

The next day, both the Webelo Scouts and the Cub Scouts were on hand to help clean the fields. And they weren’t alone.

“People were there when we needed them,” Baldi said. “Tom Kane and his wife were helping to clean up the lower field. Here is the superintendent of our schools helping to clean up. He’s not just some administrator. He showed up. (Town Administrator) Leon Gaumond was there. All of the selectmen were there. There was a lot of support throughout the community. They pitched in. They didn’t just show up and shake hands. They were there helping.”

Baldi said feedback was also positive from the performers who attended the festival.

“A lot of them asked that, if we do this again in the future, ‘please include us,’ ” he said.

While the music was still playing on the all-purpose field, an estimated crowd of 3,000 was gathering for the return of an old tradition to West Boylston – a community bonfire – albeit on a larger scale than usual.

Two weeks of lugging and about four hours of arranging some 800 pallets, fence posts and hay bales at the base of the pool hill left the attendees feeling the heat as far away as the high school baseball field.

“This was just what we wanted,” Selectman and Bicentennial Committee member Valmore Pruneau said. “Nice and even (burn), everyone is enjoying themselves. It’s a nice time.”

“It’s just like old times,” Selectman and Bicentennial Committee member Allen Phillips said, noting the bonfires used to be held every Fourth of July.

By Sunday at noontime, people had started to stake their spots along Route 12 and the common for the bicentennial year’s major event, the grand parade.

With more than 2,000 marchers in 115 units organized in five divisions, the parade lasted just over 2 1/2 hours, Parade Committee Chairman Christopher Rucho said. Making sure things went well was a team of more than 30 volunteers who assembled the parade at the start, and disassembled it two miles later at Goodale Park.

“I think it went great,” Rucho said. “At assembly, everything went great. The people who worked with us at assembly and disassembly just kept everything in order.”

The parade itself included multiple musical acts, including three marching bands, three Shriners groups, marking the first timer in several years the Boston and Springfield Shriners have been in the same Central Massachusetts parade, a flotilla of classic cars and floats representing many local businesses.

Rucho, whose entire family either worked or participated in the parade, joked that he only saw the parade as it marched away from him outside Salter College.

“I’m looking forward to watching the parade on cable access,” he said on Monday. “My understanding is they are editing it right now.”

But he was on hand when many of the musical acts, including the Branches Steel Band, the New Liberty Jazz Band, the Philadelphia Mummers and the UMass Marching Band, kept the crowd at Goodale Park entertained up until the fireworks.

“I’ve been getting feedback from people on the day as a whole and everybody loved it,” Rucho said. “These are memories people are going to keep forever, from the parade through the fireworks. That’s a nice thing to hear.”

The positive atmosphere at Goodale Park was obvious to Bicentennial Committee member Joe Lajeunesse.

“I love this town,” Lajeunesse said. “This right here is what ‘town’ is all about.”

Looking forward after a successful weekend, Baldi said he hopes the Arts Foundation can hold more events that reach beyond parents and into the community as a whole.

“We want to reach the residents and show them the importance of arts in the town,” he said.

However, with another milestone town anniversary decades away, there are no immediate plans to repeat the grand parade any time soon.

“I did tell people on the committee that we should start getting ready for 25 years from now,” Rucho said with a laugh. “I didn’t get much of a response.”

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Bonfire Sept 20

Fireworks Sept 21

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