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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pols, patriots, plenty of people celebrate Labor Day in Milford

Labor Day Parade watchers who turned out for Monday’s version of the annual celebration probably didn’t equal the throng of 12,000 that filled the Oval area way back in 1959, but several longtime attendees agreed it was one of the better crowds in recent memory.

The parade, a classic example of small-town Americana launched in 1946 to celebrate both the homecoming of the nation’s World War II soldiers and its workforce, showcased the town’s police, fire and medical first responders, its civic and community organizations, musical ensembles and church groups, plus a number of floats and displays that paid tribute to Milford’s agricultural heritage. ...

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Labor Day Parade watchers who turned out for Monday’s version of the annual celebration probably didn’t equal the throng of 12,000 that filled the Oval area way back in 1959, but several longtime attendees agreed it was one of the better crowds in recent memory.

The parade, a classic example of small-town Americana launched in 1946 to celebrate both the homecoming of the nation’s World War II soldiers and its workforce, showcased the town’s police, fire and medical first responders, its civic and community organizations, musical ensembles and church groups, plus a number of floats and displays that paid tribute to Milford’s agricultural heritage.

That heritage gave rise to this year’s theme, “The Year of the American Farmer.” And as is always the case, especially in an election year, office-holders and hopeful challengers for local, state and federal posts walked the route from side to side to greet as many prospective voters as possible.

The robust attendance can be attributed at least in part to renewed efforts to find funding for the parade since 2011, when the event came close to being canceled due to lack of funding.

Lyndeborough resident Brendan Philbrick, whose father, Bob Philbrick, is a longtime town moderator and parade organizer, is credited with drumming up enough contributions to save the 2011 parade.

That started a trend, and this year the town appropriated $5,000 and two local foundations – the Kaley and Keyes – grew the budget to $10,000 by pledging $2,500 each.

What everyone – politicians, musicians, go-kart-driving Shriners, clowns, military veterans and their audience – had in common Monday was searching for ways to stay cool against the blistering heat and thick humidity that arrived Sunday and settled in the Souhegan Valley.

Groups huddled under what shade was available in the Oval, while others sought shelter in the gazebo, the vantage point from which Town Moderator Pete Basiliere carried out his duties as parade announcer.

Bill McCarty and Pat Webber were among parade watchers who settled in front of Town Hall, on the east side of the Oval.

“Been coming every year,” said McCarty, a retired newspaper route driver. He’s been to at least 15, maybe more, Labor Day Parades in Milford.

Spotted among the spectators on the Union Street side of the oval Monday was former longtime selectman Rosario “Sarooch” Ricciardi, a nonagenarian who is among the most recognizable personalities in town.

Back in 1959, meanwhile, the Labor Day Parade was the main event in a larger, four-day celebration complete with a weekend-long carnival at Shepard Park, according to Telegraph archives.

The parade route some 55 years ago was the same as today’s until it reached the Oval; back then it continued east on Nashua Street to Shepard Park, rather than turning up Mont Vernon Street and ending at the VFW.

Participation by military groups was heavier at that time, with the parade featuring the New Hampshire National Guard with their “big guns” among units from every branch of the service.

The highlight that year must have been the giant float carrying a 35-foot Navy Regulus missile through town.

In all, according to the Telegraph, 49 floats took part. One of the judges for the “best floats” contest was Nashua Mayor Mario J. Vagge. Woodman’s florist shop won first prize.

One of the many raffles and giveaways over the four-day event had a rather interesting prize, the Telegraph reported: A “ceramic burner gas grill for outdoor cooking.”

As for this year, leading the participating politicians was Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is nearing the end of her two-year term and is running for re-election.

Later in the parade, Republicans Walt Havenstein and Andrew Hemingway came through the Oval, both walking out ahead of a sea of sign-toting supporters. The pair will face off in next week’s primary for the opportunity to challenge Hassan in November.

Meanwhile, one of the larger armies of supporters belonged to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who likewise waved and shook hands along the route.

The three Republicans running in next Tuesday’s primary – former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire and former state Sen. Jim Rubens – also marched Monday with their respective supporters. They all hope to defeat Shaheen, a Democrat, on Nov. 4.

Another Democratic incumbent in attendance Monday was U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.

The two Republican primary candidates for that seat, Gary Lambert and State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, also marched.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).