It can be easy for locals to take for granted Bristol’s Fourth of July Parade. Yet talk to these people and their love and respect for the event is palpable: not just for what it means to them but how they have seen it touch so many beyond their own community. A thread of civic pride, love of family, friends, town and country is woven throughout these stories.
Bette Anne Moreira is the longest active member of the Bristol Fourth of July Committee
The year was 1963. “Back then you did what your mother told you,” says Bette Anne (Holmes) Moreira, who as a young wife with her first baby was instructed by her mother to join the Bristol Fourth of July Committee. Her parents Frances and E. Hugh were active volunteers and it was only natural that their daughter would be too. Today Bette Anne has the distinction of being the longest active member of the committee. A lot has changed since her early days, when there were just a few events leading up to parade day. “We had the Fourth Ball at the Armory on Metacom Avenue. You would buy a table for your family and it was BYOBF (bring your own booze and food). You would show up and see everyone in town. You knew who was home. It was always a big reunion.”
As Bette Anne’s involvement grew, so did her responsibilities, becoming General Chair for the 1990 and 1991 parades. “We were lucky to have perfect weather and no mishaps. Everyone pitched in as they do with every parade to make it the best. They all helped and supported me,” she recalls. In recent years, she has scaled back to chairing one event, the Flag Day reception. For the first time in its history the reception this year was held in the barn at Mt. Hope Farm instead of at Linden Place.
As with every Fourth of July Parade, Bette Anne’s joy comes from watching people walk by her house dressed in their red, white and blue, carrying their chairs and saying hello to everyone they pass on their way to the parade. “It just makes me so happy!”
What has kept Bette Anne involved all these years? “The people on the committee,” she says without hesitation. Her mother knew best.
Daniela Lopes is the 2013 Miss Fourth of July
Over the years, Daniela Lopes has watched the Fourth of July parade while working at her family’s restaurant, The Sunset Café, on Hope Street. But this year the 19-year-old University of Rhode Island Public Relations major won’t be at work. Instead, she will be waving to her family from a float as the newly crowned 2013 Miss Fourth of July.
For the Bristol resident and 2011 Mt. Hope High graduate, it was her first time competing in the Miss Fourth of July pageant. “When I was little I competed one year in the Little Miss but didn’t win anything,” she says. Daniela still can’t believe she won the big title. “I woke up as I normally do the morning after the pageant. But when I turned over I saw the crown on my nightstand and thought ‘Oh, yeah that happened!’”
Daniela has always enjoyed attending lots of Fourth events, including the concerts. “I almost feel it is rude not to go. It’s our town and so many people work so hard to make the events happen. It’s a tradition to go and support everything.”
An important part of the pageant competition is the question and answer segment. Daniela’s question picked at random: What was the best piece of advice she was ever given? Her response, “My mother always told me how important it is to forgive,” she says. “That also includes me forgiving myself when I make a mistake and to stay positive. That’s how I try to live.”
What motivated her to compete this year? “I really want to do more things and thought this would be one of those experiences to try. I got to meet girls I never knew before. It was such a worthwhile experience whether I won or not.”
Daniela has been getting advice from past winners who have told her to cherish the time because it goes by so fast. “And I definitely plan to,” she says with her winning smile.
The parade is a family affair for the Ursinis
For the Ursinis – Maria, Greg and their children Marissa and Justin – helping out with the Bristol Fourth of July Committee events and the parade is a family affair. Maria, who is executive director of the Bristol Senior Center and coordinator of the Bristol Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, is a longtime volunteer with St. Elizabeth Church’s Holy Ghost Committee and in the Bristol schools (Marissa and Justin will be a senior and junior respectively at Mt. Hope High in the fall). Maria joined the Bristol Fourth of July Committee five years ago. “I was looking for an organization that was community wide. The Fourth committee is just that – young, old, new and longtime residents,” she says.
In recent years Maria, a Miss Fourth of July runner up in 1983, has managed the Hospitality Tent for the bands over the two weeks of consecutive concert nights. It means late nights for the family who clean and close up the tent long after the last song has been sung. The day of the parade, the family is up and out the door in the dark doing whatever task the Committee has assigned them. Over the years Maria, Marissa and Justin have done everything from drive golf carts to carry banners in the parade. Meanwhile Greg, a retired Bristol police officer who has worked over 25 parades handling patrolling, staffing and logistics, continues to work the parade as a retired reserve patrol officer.
This year’s parade will have extra significance for Maria, who came to this country at age eight from the Azores. Last November, a few days before the Presidential election she took the oath of citizenship. Despite many years of dedicated community service to her hometown, Maria wanted to feel a part of the democratic process to make a difference, which she feels “happens when you can vote.”
While many of their friends are enjoying the festivities, Justin and Marissa are happy to pitch in and help even if it means lots of extra work. “The Bristol Fourth of July Parade reminds Americans,” says Justin, “that this is why we are here.”
A Patriotic Lawn Party
The DaPontes of High Street host their 20th celebration
Mike DaPonte, co-owner of DaPonte’s Landscaping of Bristol, oversees 60 workmen, 31 trucks and lots of machinery. But in the months leading up to July fourth, the talented home chef spends his evenings creating a new menu for the annual parade celebration he and his wife Sue, with their children Alex and Elizabeth, host for family and friends. This year will mark the family’s 20th celebration.
Mike and Sue purchased the building known as the Burton School House on High Street a few days before July fourth. “We showed up parade day with a cooler, a basket of food and some family,” recalls Mike. Those days are a distant memory: staples now include a large striped canopy tent, tables and chairs, misting tent for those really humid days, a professional restaurant griddle, grills, coolers of ice and food for the 125 people who attend the day long event. Plus, there is bleacher seating. Wanting to maximize the viewing for his guests, Mike did what any good host would do – he built bleacher seats. “The design was pure Portuguese ingenuity,” says Mike who is half Portuguese. A lifelong Bristol resident, he grew up watching the parade from different spots along the route that even he had marched in - including the time when his father Fee DaPonte was Grand Marshall in 1986.
On parade day, a close group of Mike’s friends arrives around 4am to help with set up, which is what spurred the tradition of serving breakfast. “I had the grill and figured why not fire it up and give the guys some eggs.” Now he tries something different every year, but a regular is the french toast casserole his brother-in-law Don Caron makes. “It’s a time for the guys to catch up before the day gets crazy,” he says. Mike and Sue are quick to point out that they could not do this party on their own. “Every- one - family and friends - contribute to some aspect of it.”
During the parade, a huge assortment of finger foods come out and after the last float passes by there is a sit down lunch. Signature offerings of the day include Mike’s famous NY System-style hot wieners, sausage and peppers, fava beans, lemonade from Bristol’s Empire Bottling, sister Carol’s stuffies, a freezer full of ice cream treats and the secret recipe beverage for the adults known innocently as jungle juice.
The motto is, once you are invited it is a lifetime invitation. “Some guests stay the whole day, others may stop by for a hello or there are the neighbors who just won’t leave,” jokes Mike.
Bringing the Party
Scott Pellerin is a spirited Fourth spectator
On parade day, Scott Pellerin is better known as the Uncle Sam guy with a spirit so infectious that even the most disciplined drum line will break with formation to stop and perform at his encouragement.
The Bristol native has never missed a parade and does not plan on it. A Roger Williams University graduate, Scott loves teaching math at Mt. Hope High where he graduated in 2001. He is also the assistant wrestling coach at RWU and has a part-time dj business where he is known as ScottyP. He is the dj for the Miss Fourth of July Pageant and the classic car show.
In recent years, Scott has helped out the Fourth of July Committee by doing fundraising prior to the parade. Dressed in his signature costume, blowing a vuvuzela and maneuvering a Segway along the parade route, he is a modern day pied piper.
Scott and his friends have watched the parade from the same spot on lower High Street for almost ten years. “When there is a lull in the parade I look at it as an opportunity,” he says good-naturedly. He entertains the crowds performing flips in the street.“Wrestling makes me very nimble.” Prepared with bags of candy and ice pops, he runs up and down the street teasing the children who expect it as he hands out the treats. “I just love the kids,” he says. His presence is appreciated. One time a spectator was concerned he hadn’t arrived. “I was running late and she came over to me and said ‘I was afraid you weren’t coming. You are so much fun to watch,’ which was reassuring.” Scott never wants his antics to go over the line by being rude or disrespectful. “The volunteers are selfless with their time and effort to put on such a great parade.”
He and his good friend Drew White are always thinking of ways to enhance the spectator experience. “We each love the parade and have a running bet on who will be the first Chief Marshall,” he says. When Scott took the step to buy his first house, he bought it in Warren. “But I’ve got to get back to Bristol and it’s got to be on the parade route!”
A Grand Affair
Wendy MacDonough, Fourth Ball co-chair, gives back
For Wendy MacDonough, a New Jersey native who has lived in Bristol with her husband Chuck and their children Kaitlyn, Michael and Jeffrey for the past 19 years, it was after their daughter was first runner up for Miss Fourth of July in 2007 that the couple joined the Fourth of July committee.
“After attending all these events with our daughter I thought, ‘Wow, this is impressive. Who is behind the scenes doing all this work? I want to be a part of this,’” she recalls. They wrote a letter thanking the committee for a terrific experience and offered their help. That was six years ago; she has been co-chair of the Fourth of July Ball ever since. Additionally she and Chuck also oversee the Fourth of July Committee’s concession stand every night of the concerts (except the night of the ball, of course). “Our kids also volunteer throughout the year. They are always helping out; the boys are always being called to move things, which they gladly do.”
This year, the Fourth of July Ball will be held under the tent on the dock at the Herreshoff Museum featuring Blue Rock Catering and the Boston band, Plaid Daddy. Wendy welcomed the opportunity to be on the committee when the Ball was brought back to Bristol in 2008, the same year Kaitlyn won Miss Fourth of July. “People love that it is back in town,” says Wendy who has a background in catering which has served her well in her role. “I really love working on the event and trying new things to make it fresh.” Her co-chair this year is Maria Cesario.
“Young and old, there are so many different ages on the committee. Chuck and I have made such dear friends thanks to joining. We have met people we never would have met otherwise.” They each work full-time jobs and go non-stop in the weeks leading up to the big day. After the parade is over family and friends come back to their house where, “we float in the pool, hang out and get charged up for another year.”