By KATIE HOOS
Cloaked in a red velvet suit with snowy white trim, Santa Claus sat atop New Rochelle’s Ladder 11 fire truck unofficially signaling the start of the holiday season. The festivities came as part of the city’s 50th annual Valenti-New Rochelle Thanksgiving Parade.
Despite the cold and windy weather on Saturday, Nov. 23, participants and spectators ca-me out to honor the city in one of the final events of New Rochelle’s year-long 325th anniversary celebration.
The parade, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the City of New Rochelle, is a tradition that organizers and residents alike look forward to
Frank Miceli, president of the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, said the parade had a great turn out this year.
“Being the 325th anniversary, we had that committee on board with us, along with the support from the Valenti family, it just made this parade even more special,” he said.
Beginning at 10 a.m.on Ea-stchester and North avenues, the parade headed south on North, turned right onto Main Street and ended on Maple Avenue.
Ten floats, nine bands, and 40 organizations marched in the parade, including New Rochelle schools, dance teams, sports clubs, local veterans and the New Rochelle Fire Department.
Leading the parade were Mayor Noam Bramson, members of the City Council and Domenico Procopio, the parade’s grand marshal.
Procopio, a civil service chairman for the City of New Rochelle and president of the Calabria Mutual Aid Society, is a local businessman with a history of community service within in New Rochelle.
Born in Calabria, Italy, he came to New Rochelle in his twenties after his parents immigrated to the United States, got a job as a barber and eventually bought the shop, building his career as an entrepreneur.
Ralph Berardi, Procopio’s son-in-law, said Procopio was elated to be this year’s grand marshal. Walking with his family by his side, Procopio said, “It is an honor to be recognized as someone who’s given back to the community, but it’s really the country and community that have given back to me.”
While every organization marching in the parade was cheered on by spectators, some crowd favorites included the group from Suburbia Roller Derby, Westchester County’s all-female roller derby league, who rolled through the parade chasing a turkey on inline skates. The New Rochelle Humane Society walked along the parade route with several adoptable dogs dressed in holiday attire, generating cheers of excitement from the crowd.
Iona College was well represented with two large floats. One was a replica of the Mayflower and the other was a flatbed truck holding the college mascot and a group of students.
Miss Westchester and Miss Hudson Valley made an appearance as well, sporting their crowns and waving to onlookers.
Lastly, Santa anchored the parade, shouting ‘Ho ho ho,’ his presence ushering in the holiday season.
The energy was high, spectators were smiling and clapping, and the unity within the community was evident at this year’s parade. However, recent years have not been favorable for fans of the time-honored tradition.
In 2009, the parade was canceled by the Chamber of Commerce due to lack of financial support, community participation and poor planning.
Jennifer Lancer from the Chamber of Commerce said there were no such problems this year.
“We had over 1,200 marchers in the parade, new floats that were magnificent and new groups that joined this year,” Lancer said. “It was fantastic.”
New Rochelle resident Dan Richmond attended this year’s event with his daughter and said he was happy to be at the parade.
“It brings the whole city together and kicks off the holidays,” he said. The parade and other 325th anniversary events are a “celebration of New Ro-chelle’s historic roots and commitment from the beginning for freedom and justice,” Richmond said.
The parade signifies the beginning of the holiday shopping season in downtown New Rochelle, with several stores offering specials and sale prices, as well as free parking in designated municipal parking lots from Monday, Dec. 9, through Tuesday, Dec. 31.
The Chamber of Commerce will be hosting its holiday lighting ceremony at Memorial Plaza on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.