SEASIDE HEIGHTS – It just got greener and greener as you strolled down the borough Boulevard filled with thousands of spectators for this year’s 36th Annual Ocean County St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
While the parade came 11 days earlier than St. Patrick’s Day itself, who’s counting? This is where locals and visitors celebrate the holiday. As per tradition, the day began with a traditional Irish Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church on the Boulevard and Grant Avenue. The parade began at noon.
Prior to that, spectators found their spot to sit. Some brought chairs or blankets. Other parade watchers allowed time to purchase an inflatable leprechaun, shamrock sunglasses or any of the variety of items from the street vendors. One of those street vendors is operated by the Donaway family who were all decked out in green.
Bob Donaway of Seaside Heights said he is a veteran and applied for the license to be a vendor at this parade about two decades ago. Helping him sell hats, beads and sunglasses were her son Shawn and grandson Shawn Jr. “It’s a tradition for us,” Bob Donaway said.
Some enjoy a corned beef sandwich or hot dog from a borough eatery like Ryan’s Deli.
Local Girl Scout troops take advantage of the large crowd and arrange to have tables to sell their boxes of Samoas and Thin Mints. Girl Scout Savanna Castaldo, 5, of Troop 50070 out of Little Egg Harbor/Tuckerton was among the scouts selling their cookies in front of a deli on the street. Her mom Cyndy Castaldo drew shamrocks on both sides of her cheeks
The Boy Scouts also had a place in the festivities. Tyler King, 18, was awarded his Eagle Scout status just days earlier as a member of Manchester Boy Scout Troop 441. He and fellow scout Maverick Moss, 13, and Kenny Jorgensen, 12, and their scout leaders Mark King, Tony Dimenza and Scott Moss. They were selling candy bars and peanut brittle to fundraise a trip to Tennessee.
Spirits were high as attendees not only celebrated the heritage of Ireland, but the coming of spring. Borough Mayor Anthony Vaz said this parade is one of his favorite events of the year. “It kicks off the spring season.” Seaside Park Mayor John Peterson nearly lost his emerald hat in the breeze as he joined Vaz along the parade route.
Thousands of people came out for the afternoon event and once the parade ended, the celebration continued at various locales in Seaside Heights, Lavallette and elsewhere in Ocean County. Most remained to enjoy what was being offered up at establishments on the Boulevard or to enjoy a walk on the boardwalk where arcades and stands opened up.
This year’s parade grand marshal was former Ocean County Freeholder and longtime Ocean County judge, Damien Murry. The parade committee’s “Irish Woman of the Year” was Mary Kelly. Kelly is the mother of past parade Chairman Denis Kelly and had long been the singer of the Irish National Anthems on parade day. The parade was also dedicated in honor of teachers this year.
Thomas King, the president of the Ocean County St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, noted that his organization hosted an after party at the Hershey Motel where Bally Haunis provided live Irish music, along with food and refreshments.
King also noted in seeking out new parade sponsors that with the growth of the parade, “our annual costs have risen in excess of $40,000.”
His wife, Robyn, serves as treasurer of the parade. She said, “We have grown as a committee this past year and have a great group of people making this possible. We have had sponsor issues and of course the sponsors’ support helps us put the parade on the street. Our fundraisers help with offset the cost. We had our Irish Wake on Jan. 15, and it was a success. We also do a Shamrocks by the Sea Festival at the end of September.
“On parade day we have about 40 committee members and marshals on the street. Most of the marshals are stationed at the beginning of the parade route and get the parade participants in position and out on the Boulevard when the time comes. Our senior marshals can also be seen driving up and down the parade route in golf carts,” she said.
Red haired Christine Seiders of Toms River joined her daughters Olivia, 6 and Alexa, 5 for the parade this year. Seiders day is often on a Pleasant Plains firetruck. “We love to hear the sirens blaring and the trucks go by,” Seiders said.
The parade is always dog friendly with many canines decked out in green attire. Greg and Jess Wynn of Brick brought along Hondo and Harper, their two Old English Bulldogs for the event and they were properly attired in green and shamrocks.
Numerous high school bands, floats, and Irish American organizations like the Michael Davitt Division #11, of Jackson, a branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians was there. It wouldn’t be a St. Patrick’s Day Parade without a variety of pipe bands and one popular representative included the Shamrock & Thistle Pipes & Drums Band of Ocean County. The group celebrated their 45th anniversary last year.
Among the floats that were seen was one dedicated in memory Tim Ryan, a well known Ocean County figure in politics, who operated a chain of funeral parlors and served as the parade’s very first grand marshal.