Hometown patriotism on display: Chesterfield’s Fourth of July parade draws big crowd

By Sophie Hauck

For the Gazette

Published: 07-04-2023 8:23 PM

CHESTERFIELD — Even Mother Nature could not rain on Chesterfield’s parade Tuesday, as hundreds gathered to enjoy the town’s annual Fourth of July celebration.

The parade, uninterrupted by rainy weather, has made its way down Main Street for 76 consecutive years, attracting a crowd from all over western Massachusetts. This year, a global audience cheered on the procession of tractors, classic cars and fire engines, viewers traveling from Kenya, Pakistan and 25 other countries to experience a morning of American patriotism.

“We share a history of colonialism,” said Jethron Akala, a Kenyan professor participating in a summer exchange program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that brought 61 international professors and students to the parade. “The feeling of nationhood is the same across borders, across all races, across all societies, irrespective of the diverse cultures and diverse histories of how nations were founded.”

Foreign paradegoers were among the event’s most enthusiastic, according to Mike Hannahan, a UMass professor who partners with the exchange program through the UMass Donahue Institute.

“I do love my country, but [the program participants] sometimes are more enthusiastic than I am,” Hannahan said.

In Chesterfield, paradegoers celebrated American independence shielded under colorful umbrellas, wearing red, white and blue clothing, or for Akala — a star-spangled plastic lei.

Kathryn Koegel sported a festive beach cover-up she set aside for the holiday, tugging one dog wearing a festive bandana and another with an American flag tucked into its harness.

Massachusetts takes this stuff seriously,” said Koegel, who grew up in California and most recently lived in New York City before the pandemic. “I love the tradition.”

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Tradition is the lifeblood of Chesterfield’s festivities on the Fourth, said Charlie Cronin, who traveled from New Jersey to attend the event he grew up watching. He recalled “seeing the same people on the same corner every year.”

“It’s an old school feel,” Cronin said. “Everyone knows each other. It’s the same people who have been coming to the same parade forever, and it’s new generations coming up and enjoying it as well.”

Among the crowd of familiar faces were three Chesterfield citizens who received honors for their outstanding contributions to the town. A committee of voters recognized Jack Henry and Justin West as Parade Marshals, Megan Shields-Willard as Volunteer of the Year and Roger Fuller with the Lifetime Achievement Award, not a great shock to Fuller’s daughter, Chelsea Fuller.

“He’s always gone up and beyond,” the younger Fuller said. “I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for it, but I don’t think that’s why he does it. I think he does it because that’s what he feels should be done.”

For many, attending the parade is an opportunity to celebrate the people and traditions of Chesterfield, and patriotism sometimes comes second to their appreciation of the town. In recent years, celebrating the country’s history risked alienating people frustrated with the American government, but for event organizers, the Fourth of July was never political.

“We’re very patriotic without being political. That’s our goal,” said event organizer Leslie Kellogg. “It’s always felt just hometown patriotism, just proud to be an American without whatever connotations you might feel when you say that.”

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