2007-02-23 / Columnists

On The Beach

Pomp, Pageantry And The Parade
Commentary By Beverly Baxter

BEVERLY BAXTERBEVERLY BAXTER For me, it will always be a time to remember and a man worthy of remembering. Throughout the years of our community's history there have been many who have graced our lives; yet the work of their lives continues to resonate, surviving them long after they have passed. We call it legacy.

As the Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee prepares to mount its 32nd parade and march through the streets of our town on March 3 in honor of Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, the day will always be a day to remember parade founder James Conway Sullivan, as patron of Rockaway's Irish community.

And, in a profound spiritual way, I will feel his presence within the steadfast beat of the march, within the wail of the fifes and drums, within the tri-color flag or the enchantment in a child's smile. That's where you'll find him. That's where you'll find many of those whom hail from a far-away land, who have triumphed over harsh adversities to make this land their own; to build it and carve out a worthwhile existence, rising up through the immigrant experience to call this land their home. A place where, despite oppressive prejudice against Irish Catholics, a Kennedy was elected President, setting a precedent for future Irish Catholics. A place where one could soar and break new ground.

Indeed, the Irish have made their mark that can be found at the height of politics, literature, theatre, music and fine art; yet they are also noted and revered in less lofty professions. Armed with agricultural and construction skills, they came to these shores ready to build our bridges, roads and tunnels, plow our fields and fight with our armed forces. And they kept going, advancing within the American experience; unbridled by restrictions.

As we enter our third decade under the guiding and patient leadership of Parade President Mike Benn, we have in Benn the personification of the Irish experience in America. Together with his wife Christina, the Benn's exemplify the standard of faith, family and hard work, ingredients for a worthwhile life. Mike came up through the Carpenter's Union and Christina worked in the food service industry, while giving birth to and raising six children; and yet still managing to look like she could be her own daughter! I am awed by their hard work and their spirit of Failte, their welcoming inclusion of others who wish to contribute. So much goes into the planning of this great day. While the parade moves along the route in a matter of hours, it takes nearly an entire year and the collaborated efforts of so many to get the parade back up Newport & Beach 129 Street to where we start again!

Each year, the committee of fifty members vote to select a slate of honorees who have distinguished themselves within the Irish community. They are chosen for their extraordinary endeavors on behalf of the Irish community or simply through the humble understated work of their lives. Their presence has enhanced our community. We are a better community for having them.

The honorees were celebrated and fêted on February 17 at the annual Installation Gala at Antun's. Hosted by the parade committee, the honorees made their debut and were formally installed in their honor, while family, friends and supporters stood in applause.

The honorees are: Grand Marshal, Kevin Kelly, Business Agent of the Metallic Lathers Local 46, currently seated as a Delegate with the NYC Building Trades and NY State District Council of Iron Workers, serving as a Trustee to the Metallic Lathers Union Funds and to the Joint Apprenticeship Committee. Kelly is the product of a rich legacy of union workers, including the past 75 years, his grandfather, father, uncles, cousins, son and two brother-in-laws.

His goals include securing that organized labor continues its strong voice with local politicians and government at all levels, ensuring that working people, the backbone of the middle class, will be treated with dignity in their workplace and receive a fair day's pay for a fair day worked. Kevin and his wife Margarita have two sons and reside in Middle Village Queens.

Our Honorary Grand Marshal is Edward Ford, President of Local 30, International Union of Operating Engineers. A graduate of Maritime Trades School and Apex Technical School, Ford is a dual licensed Stationary Engineer, presently the Chief Engineer of the Nassau Coliseum. He was recently honored by The United Irish Counties Association of New York.

Our James Conway Sullivan Gael of the Year is awarded to the beloved Congressman Joseph Crowley. In 2003 Congressman Crowley was selected to serve in the Democratic Leadership as Chief Democratic Whip, making him the highest-ranking New York Member in the Democratic Leadership. The Congressman has used his position on International Relations and his co-chairmanship of the Congressional Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs to expand his past work on Irish affairs with regard to justice and equality throughout Ireland. Congressman Crowley has deep roots within Rockaway's Irish community. He comes from a renowned political, as well as musical, family who have spent many a summer here campaigning, while often treating many to his favorite Irish ditties! He authored the 911 Heroes Medal of Valor Act to be awarded to rescue workers who perished while responding to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Our Deputy Grand Marshals all hail from professions in Banking, Construction Business, Politics, Education, Labor, Civil Service and Law, areas in which the Irish have been known to excel. They are: Joseph McGoorty, Ellen Peppard Esq., Warren Scullen, Matthew Gorton, John Kimball, Martin Feeney, Kelly Feeney, New York State Senator Malcolm Smith and State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer.

Among the dignitaries who attended our Gala were John Dunlevy, President of the Fifth Avenue parade; NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn; Councilman Joe Addabbo; Regent Dr. Geraldine D. Chapey; Hon. Judge Tim Dufficy, as well as former Grand Marshals. Also in attendance were members of the Rockaway Republican Club: George Greco, Tom Lynch, Tom Long, Stu Mirsky, Frank Farrell, Peter Stubben and Gerry Cronin who came to fete Joe McGoorty and the roster of distinguished honorees.

It was nice to see Bobby Hart, Maureen and Andy McGee, Tom Touhey, Felicia Edwards of The Wave and the many who continue to support this auspicious tradition.

***The Rockaway Catholic Jewish Council, in its collaboration with Trinity Senior Services, hosted a trip to The Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan to see its exhibit of Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. The RCJC's mission is to promote and foster interfaith dialogue in our neighborhoods. Congratulations to Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey and Renee Freeman, Co-Presidium of this worthwhile organization.

***Very special Happy Birthday wishes to Eric Ulrich!

See you....at the parade!

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