Planning is underway for the return of the Dorchester Day parade after pandemic-driven restrictions twice shut down a celebration that dates back to 1904.
Sunday, June 5, will mark the first time festivities run through the city’s largest neighborhood since 2019. Coronavirus health precautions restricted large gatherings, but declining infection rates, as well as the return of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 20, gave organizers confidence to proceed with planning.
The parade will kick off at 1 p.m. in Lower Mills and conclude at the intersection of Dorchester Avenue and Columbia Road. Neighborhood after-parties are usually held that afternoon and evening.
“It’s going to make us feel back to normal,” said John Schneiderman, a Vietnam War veteran who served as the Chief Grand Marshal of the parade in 2019, “and what we need is to feel normal again.”
This will be the 116th annual parade. Both the main event and preparations typically bring together businesses, local elected officials and residents to fundraise.
“I think we’re all very, very excited to be able to get back out there and put the parade on the street,” said Kelly Walsh, president of the parade committee.
“It’s nice to be able to celebrate our community with all of our friends and neighbors,” she added. “I think a lot of people miss that kind of thing.”
For each celebration, the parade committee selects a neighborhood veteran to serve as Chief Grand Marshal. This year, the honor goes to Louis Pasquale, a 95-year-old World War II veteran. He has waited patiently since his 2020 selection to preside over a parade.
Pasquale was unanimously chosen to the job and has been a fixture in Dorchester for more than half a century. He ran neighborhood bowling nights, covering the cost for kids who couldn’t afford the price of admittance, according to Schneiderman.
“I think it’s just going to be awesome to see him in the car going by with the Chief Grand Marshall hat on,” Schneiderman said. “You couldn’t fit a better person to become the Chief Grand Marshall.”
Planning for the day of fun is normally a yearslong process. Even though the parade has not happened the last two years, the committee still met for nearly all their scheduled monthly meetings, Walsh said. This time, organizers, who all work voluntarily, will have around four months before the parade.
“I love parade day, but I always know one of the best times of the day for me as parade committee president is when I get the text that the last group is on the parade route, just because you know that it was another successful day,” Walsh said.
Gretchen Haase has held the ceremonial title of mayor of Dorchester since 2019. Due to the parade cancellations, there has not been an opportunity to designate a new mayor. So with the first Sunday of June just around the corner, she’s helping fundraise ahead of the parade kickoff.
“There’s no big money pools in the Dorchester Day Parade,” Haase said. “It’s all about raising funds.”
And though it’s an honorary position, Haase has participated in some local events. During a 2019 tree-lighting ceremony, Haase said she filled in for then-Mayor Marty Walsh, who was away on a trip to Ireland.
With a packed ballot this fall, the parade will also feature local elected officials and candidates looking to shake some hands and ask for votes along the route down Dorchester Avenue.
As mayor of Dorchester, Haase said she loses track of how much effort goes into planning the events. Calling the community a melting pot, she predicts the first Sunday in June will be “insane.”
Annissa Essaibi George, the former city councillor at-large, is organizing the Little Miss Dorchester Contest, where young contestants write essays and are interviewed by judges to select a winner.
“It’s a time where everyone is out of their home,” Essaibi George said. “We live at the end of the parade route, and so we always end up having a post-parade neighborhood barbecue, and everyone’s welcome.”
This story was originally published by the Dorchester Reporter.