By CHRIS EBERHART
From the Irish roots of two men from the boroughs of New York City grew a St. Patrick’s Day tradition in the Town of Eastchester.
The town’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is now in its 10th year and has become a heavily-attended and celebrated event in the community, was nothing more than a concept in the minds of Jim Hendry and Tom Huvane before 2005.
When asked where the idea for a parade came from, both men said it sprouted from their Irish upbringings.
“I was raised by an Irish family; my parents were from Ireland and I grew up in an Irish area in Queens, which had parades and Irish bands and Irish music,” said Hendry, who is one of the grand marshals of this year’s parade. “I was rooted in Irish traditions. But when I moved to Eastchester about 20 years ago, there was nothing here except—at the time—a little Irish social club.”
Huvane, who will share the grand marshal duties with Hendry during this year’s parade, said he was raised by Irish immigrant parents as well and grew up on a parallel track with Hendry. Huvane said both he and Hendry lived in Irish neighborhoods outside of New York City, married nurses and each had two children—a boy and a girl, who are all partaking in similar activities with the boys playing high school baseball and the girls in Irish dance.
“It’s interesting to see how two men that were raised in similar ways chose such different career paths—with Jim [Hendry] going into civil service and entering the police academy and me going to Wall Street—and then come together in Eastchester to do this parade,” Huvane said.
Hendry said he introduced the idea of a St. Patrick’s Day parade to the Eastchester Irish American Social Club in 2003 and leaned on the club and its volunteers for support. But even with the support of the club, Hendry said he still didn’t know where to start, so he asked Eastchester Town Councilman Joseph Dooley, a Republican, for help.
“I remember talking to Joe Dooley and asking him, what the heck do we do now? Where are we going to get the money? How are we going to get the marchers? And Joe’s suggestion was to make Tom [Huvane] the co-chair, and that’s what I did,” Hendry said. “I’m a police officer. I didn’t know how to raise enough money for this parade. But Tom is a financials guy, so that’s why I asked Tom to be the co-chair.”
Dooley, who wasn’t a member of the Town Council at the time, said Huvane’s skill sets complimented Hendry’s and adding him as co-chairman would “complete the picture.”
“Jim [Hendry] was gung-ho about the parade, and he was going to get together the line of march, and Tom [Huvane] was passionate and able to take care of the financial aspects of the parade to help fund the line of march,” Dooley said. “Together the two made a strong combo to getting this thing done.”
With Huvane on board, the money was raised and preparations made for the first parade in 2005, which Huvane said had a good showing considering they were starting from nothing. He said there were about 10 to 15 groups of marchers and about 1,000 people lined along Route 22 in Eastchester.
But both Hendry and Huvane said the early years of the parade were filled with angst and worry.
“I always say, being an entrepreneur is like jumping out of a plan without a parachute and figuring out how to build one on the way down; that’s the best way I can describe the first couple of years [of the parade],” Huvane said during a Feb. 8 sash presentation, in which the club recognized the grand marshals and this year’s honoree, Fr. Eric Raaser. “We really had no idea what to expect, but, no matter what it was, we were going to succeed or fail enthusiastically.”
Despite the organizers’ uneasiness, Huvane said the parade was a success right from the first year, and every parade afterwards built on the success of the previous year.
John Collins, who is the current president of the Eastchester Irish American Social Club, said he was “just a rookie” during the first parade, but he still remembers the whirlwind of excitement that came with the birth of his third child and “making history in Eastchester.”
“My wife actually just gave birth to my youngest son a day before the parade,” Collins said. “And I think she was still delirious because she let me go [to the parade]. She probably wanted the peace and quiet because I took my other two kids, who were Irish dancers in the parade. But it was just so exciting to see all the marchers and everyone lined up watching.”
But growth in numbers didn’t come without mistakes.
Collins jokingly recalled his “rookie mistake” in the early years of the parade, when he sent the marchers to the parade route out of order.
“It was one of the first years of the parade, and I was working on the line of march, so I was in charge of assembling groups and sending them out,” Collins said. “And when a group wasn’t ready or if a group was disorganized, I whimsically sent out a different group, so the announcer ended up reading the wrong group of marchers.”
But the process and preparations have become more efficient.
During the Feb. 8 sash presentation, Eastchester Town Supervisor Anthony Colavita, a Republican to whom Hendry gave a lot of credit in starting the parade, joked when he spoke about Huvane.
“At the first parade, maybe we spoke 700 times,” Colavita said. “At the second parade, maybe it was like 300 times. Now it’s on automatic pilot. Things just roll very nicely.”
Huvane said the parade has reached its peak in terms of the number of marchers, but he said every year they look to add something different to keep the parade fresh.
Part of that has come from the contacts of Brendan Lynch, who took over as co-chairman of the parade in 2011 after Hendry stepped down.
Lynch said he was able to use his contacts from his involvement with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee in New York City to bring in traditional Irish musicians and military bands over the past two years. He said this year a group of paramedics from Ireland called the Dublin City Paramedics will march in the parade.
The parade route will be the same as it’s been in years past. It will begin at 3 p.m. on March 16 at Immaculate Conception Church on Winterhill Road in Tuckahoe and travel north on Route 22 and stop at Lake Isle Country Club.