Like a big family reunion’ Barre Heritage Festival draws a crowd from all over
Photo by Alex Clark A group of Jazzercisers from The Barre Jazzercise Center amazed the crowds of people with their synchronized dance moves during the Barre Heritage Festival Parade Saturday afternoon.
BARRE — What do a toast-making 10-year-old from Atlanta, a truck-tugging teacher from Los Angeles and a float-riding businessman from the Dominican Republic have in common?
The answer in the Granite City on Saturday was the Barre Heritage Festival and Homecoming Days, a five-day celebration that will quietly conclude with a community barbecue in Currier Park today, but drew folks from all over Saturday.
Some traveled much farther than others.
It was trial by toaster for 10-year-old Elena Jones who flew in from Atlanta with her mother, Kimberly, and younger sister, Meghan, 6, to help with the epic breakfast that Barre Rotarians, led by her grandfather, Ron Parnigoni, have been serving for more than four decades.
Jones, who ably assisted the club’s designated “toast masters” — George and Linda Milne — during a dizzying two-and-a-half hour span that saw 1,326 people served, seated and satisfied as part of an annual fundraiser that generated more than $10,500 for the Aldrich Public Library last year, had one word for the experience.
“Busy!” she said. “I never made that much toast in my life.”
It was a busy start to a busy, and by all accounts, successful day — one that had Mayor Thomas Lauzon smiling despite the fact that a trailer promoting energy efficiency took out one of the decorative street lamps that line North Main Street while pulling on to the sidewalk in front of the Blanchard Block shortly before 8 a.m.
“It’s all good,” Lauzon said, noting that while the incident gave those eating breakfast on the library lawn one more thing to talk about, the $5,000 fixture could and would be replaced.
Lauzon was more concerned about the City Council’s last-place finish in the Barre Lions Club’s “Downtown Tow-Down” than he was about the downed street lamp.
“That was pretty disappointing,” joked Lauzon, who was having an awfully hard time complaining about anything Saturday.
“It’s a great day to be mayor,” he said, on a day when feedback about the city’s revitalized downtown was overwhelmingly positive, the weather was made to order for a street festival that started at 7:30 a.m. and wasn’t scheduled to end until 11 p.m., and turnout was unusually impressive.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in the downtown,” Lauzon said.
Many of them were on hand for the Tow-Down, an annual truck pull on Elm Street that the City Council actually won the year before last, before losing last year to Seth Croteau and his team from the Bible Baptist Church.
None watched with more interest than Croteau’s mother, Beverly, who celebrated her 60th birthday while eagerly waiting to see how a friendly sibling rivalry involving her youngest son, Seth, and oldest son, Bill, played out.
“They’ve been talking about this for a year,” she said, noting Bill Croteau vowed to unseat his younger brother’s team, by entering one of his own.
The “Croteau Crew,” which included Bill Croteau, brother Tom Croteau and Mark Matthewson, and friends Kurt Johnson, and Kris Green, did just that, even though they didn’t post the fastest time.
That honor went to little brother, Seth, a big boy who tripped when crossing the finish line during his team’s first pull. Though the misstep brought down teammate Josh Bilodeau and had the two men tumbling on the asphalt, the 14.71-second time had the Bible Baptist Church on top after the first pull, with the “Croteau Crew” just behind at 14.9 seconds.
Fearing his older brother’s team might be able to post a better time with a second pull, Seth Croteau committed to pulling again, a move that proved to be a tactical mistake compounded by another costly misstep that forced the Bible Baptist Church to start over after getting nearly half the way to the finish line.
Instead of comfortably winning the competition, the Bible Baptist team lost it finishing with a time of 15.44 seconds, just behind the Croteau Crew at 15.03 seconds.
“We wanted to beat this guy,” Bill Croteau said throwing an arm around his younger brother even as the trash-talking about next year got underway.
The City Council wasn’t a factor and finished dead last, something Councilor Michael Boutin had hoped to avoid though he didn’t expect to beat the team from his church.
“We don’t have a prayer,” he said.
The council did get a helping hand from first-time festival-goer Jeff Pulice, a Los Angeles teacher, who was described as a “UCLA linebacker” by emcee Paul Plante.
That wasn’t quite right, according to Pulice, who explained he was a wrestler in his college days at Cal State Los Angeles.
Pulice’s muscle wasn’t enough to help the Lauzon-led council team keep from finishing fifth in a five-team competition that included two teams from the Vermont Ravens football team. He wasn’t complaining and credited his wife — a Barre girl who was raised Donna Carrier — for talking him into the competition.
“She said it would be fun and it was,” he said, describing his wife as “the proudest daughter Barre has ever had.”
“She loves this town,” he said, noting he’s typically teaching summer school when she flies back for the heritage festival, but he’ll be joining her in the future.
“I’ll be coming back,” he said.
Lots of people do and several members of Marian High School’s Class of 1964 were among them this year.
Though many of those are locals who attended this weekend’s 50th reunion of a private high school that closed in 1972, like Rick and Lucille Dente, others came from far away. Richard Gagnon flew in from California, Robert Cassavoy was up from Alabama, Mike Moreau is here from Nevada, and Helen (Chatot) Lanoue came from Arizona.
And then there is Sigmundo Rivaz Puello, who lives in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and returned to the community he struggled to find on the map after taking an English immersion course at St. Michael’s College back in 1962.
Puello — “Siggy” to classmates like Dente and Eugene Bisson — said it was good to be back in Barre.
“This is where my high school buddies are,” he said before hopping on the class float and riding in a 2 p.m. parade.
The parade was a huge draw on a day when North Main Street was closed to through traffic in the heart of downtown and there was live entertainment on two stages — one in City Hall Park and the other, honoring former Barre resident Chet Briggs and featuring all-ethnic performers, on Depot Square.
The festival was a hit with Jennifer Carbonneau, her husband, Matt, and their two children, Bretten, 4, and Madelon, 3.
“I think this is the best year yet,” Carbonneau said, referring to the mix of kid-friendly activities, live entertainment, and street vendors.
“There’s a lot going on,” she said.
Janet Dion, who enjoyed a hearty breakfast with her husband, Norma, daughter, Marcia, and friends, Jeff and Joanne Mugford, said the festival was an opportunity to see people who make it a point to come home for the community celebration.
“It’s wonderful,” she said, noting the East Barre family had just run into a man who used to be their neighbor decades ago and is now living in Arizona.
“You see people you haven’t seen for years,” she said.
Bob McAllister, who splits his time between his home in Windsor, Conn., and his farm in Strafford, said seeing old friends is one of the reasons he keeps coming back.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” McAllister said, with his latest box full of secondhand reading material that he purchased from the library’s annual book sale under one arm.
“There’s something about Barre,” he said. “People seem to stick together.”
Though McAllister doesn’t live here any more, he did grow up he and recalled delivering The Barre Daily Times as a youth and participating in the “newsboys’ strike” in the late 1940s.
“This was home for me,” he said. “This is where I went to school.”
Rudy Alzaga, who went to school with McAllister, said he also looks forward to renewing old acquaintances during the last weekend of July.
“It’s like a big family reunion,” he said.
For Beverly Croteau, who watched her sons duel in a truck-pulling contest, the festival is a family tradition.
“This is good, clean family fun and we enjoy it every year,” she said.
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