Montclair loves a parade and Mother Nature gave the town just enough time to have one.
Before thunder and heavy rains started Tuesday, families lined the streets of Montclair to watch the Fourth of July parade make its way from Bloomfield Avenue to Edgemont Memorial Park. The event, hailed as the region’s largest Independence Day parade, ended with a short (due to rain) but sweet community picnic with food, games and music.
Residents from Montclair and surrounding towns camped out with coolers and lawn chairs along the route to enjoy a parade that featured antique cars, floats, dancers, marching bands, many Montclair community organizations as well as groups making political statements.
Joe Barry of Bloomfield, has attended the parade since the 1970s, and was happy to be back another year with his family.
“It’s the best parade around… it’s two hours long. We love all the civic groups, the diversity. It’s just fantastic,” Barry said.
The grand marshals of the parade, Lonnie Brandon and Pat Brechka, are both retired directors of Recreation and Cultural Affairs for Montclair Township.
“Their leadership enabled generations of Montclairions to participate in sports, summer programs, holiday festivals, health and fitness initiatives and countless activities and special events,” said Katya Wowk, communications director for the township. “The rich culture of the Township was nurtured and invigorated by their dedication and decades-long commitment to the community.”
Several Montclair Council members marched at the start of the parade — Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings, Councilor at Large Bob Russo, Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis, Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams. Waiting at the parade’s reviewing stand was Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager.
Mayor Sean Spiller and Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor Bill Hurlock did not attend, but Councilors Russo and Yacobellis, who have both indicated their intent to run for office again (Yacobellis for mayor and Russo who is in exploratory mode for a possible mayoral run) made up for it by doing double duty.
Yacobellis, after walking the parade route with his fellow councilors and acting town manager Brian Scantlebury, ran back down the route to board the float of Out Montclair, the organization of which he is executive director.
Russo, the most senior member of the council, showed just how spry he was at the parade. Russo, a professor at Montclair State, ran back from Edgemont Park to Midland Avenue to hop aboard the MSU float, joining president Jonathan Koppell. A short time later, he jumped on another float — this time, joining Friends of Howe House, a group he has been a member and supporter of, according to Russo.
Out Montclair, Montclair Cobras and YMCA of Montclair were among the community groups that returned with floats this year; the Y got the crowds along the parade route dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA.”
One of the more creative new floats was the shingled house representing the Friends of Howe House, the organization committed to preserving one of the oldest structures in Montclair, the historic house of James Howe, a formerly enslaved man who was freed in 1817.
Special guests of the parade, the Soul Stompers, a historically African American drill team led by Father Charles Brady of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Montclair, created one of the day’s highlights, captivating the audience with their dance routines.
After the parade at Edgemont Park, before the rain came, children stood in line for a balloon animal from magician and puppeteer Mark Dolson, frolicked in a sea of bubbles and bounced around on an American flag-themed bounce house.
“We were so happy at the turnout for this beloved Montclair tradition,” said Donato DiGeronimo, chair of the Montclair Celebrates July 4th Committee. “We are especially thankful for all of the community groups, marching bands, sports teams and senior citizens who celebrated Independence Day together as we honored our Grand Marshals Lonnie Brandon and Pat Brechka.”