Memorial Day: Helderberg, Voorheesville, and Altamont parades have been canceled

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Voorheesville resident Bob Prentiss, a Marine, sporting a Twin Towers necktie gets a ride along Route 85A while waving an American flag during the 2019 Voorheesville Memorial Day parade. American Legion First Vice Commander Wendell Thayer told The Enterprise that more than 2,000 hot dogs and 10 kegs of beer were consumed during a Memorial Day celebration in Voorheesville one year, highlighting the holiday’s massive community support.

ALBANY COUNTY — The Memorial Day parades in Altamont, Voorheesville, and the Hilltowns have all been canceled due to safety concerns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The situation [with the coronavirus] is so unsettled that we decided to err on the side of caution,” Gerard Chartier, the Helderberg Kiwanis Club president, told The Enterprise this week. The Kiwanis organizes a parade that concludes at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo campus and includes participants and spectators from all three towns.

In recent years, a second parade, with many of the same participants, has taken place later on Memorial Day in Knox.

In Altamont, Patricia Ruiz, chaplain and membership chairwoman for the American Legion, which was collaborating with a grassroots parade committee led by Judi Dineen in the village, told The Enterprise that the groups are entertaining the weekend of July 4 as an alternative time to hold a commemoration for veterans who have died. She stressed, though, that the plan is tentative.

“The one thing we will do,” Ruiz said, “is change the wreath.” For decades, Altamont held a wreath-changing ceremony at the memorial in Orsini Park.

Dineen told The Enterprise that, with the cancellation, this will be approximately the fifth year the village of Altamont has not held a parade for Memorial Day. Dineen had founded the Altamont Parade Committee because, as a young girl in Altamont, she had ridden a horse in the Memorial Day Parade, and thought that it’s too important a cultural element to let go undone.

Dineen also said that, at last year’s Memorial Day celebration, she overheard some gatherers say that they wished there still was a parade. “I said I’d do it but would need help,” Dineen told The Enterprise. She added that she credits the whole of the committee for coming together to plan this year’s parade prior to the cancellation.

Memorial Day celebrations have been especially robust in Voorheesville, organized by the village’s American Legion. The day-long celebration includes not just a parade but speeches, foot races, and fireworks.

Wendell Thayer, First Vice Commander of the Legion, communicating in place of Commander Mark Switzerm who is stuck in Florida because of the virus, told The Enterprise that the Legion gave away 2,400 hot dogs and went through 10 kegs of beer at a Memorial Day celebration, held after a parade that stretched between a mile and a mile-and-a-half.

But safety is of the utmost importance, he said. 

“We’ve got a board of five or six guys, and we discussed it,” Thayer said, “and then we talked to the mayor who had discussed it with the village board, and they all agreed that it was best to cancel.”

Thayer said that, despite the difficulty of the decision, everyone agreed that the parade could not go on as normal under the circumstances.

“I mean, if things clear up wildly quickly, then maybe,” Thayer mused. “But it’s not going to be everyone all at once. The older people are probably going to be sequestered for a while.”

Thayer said that it’s likely that the Legion, with the help of the Boy Scouts, who are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year and with whom the Legion has a close relationship, will likely go to all the cemeteries in the greater area and place 18-inch-high flags on the graves of veterans. 

“While keeping our distance,” Thayer added. 

In the Helderberg Kiwanis Club’s letter to the Enterprise editor this week, author Zenith Gladieux, the club’s secretary, highlighted the significance of the circumstances that have forced those focused on commemorating veterans to give up what is perhaps their most meaningful holiday, and offered a silver lining.

“I think this period will be for this generation what World War II was to the Greatest Generation,” she wrote, “the Kennedy assassination to the Baby Boomers, and 9/11 to the Millenials — a common touchstone where everyone will have common memories to share.” 

 

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