BY SHERIDAN CYR
Each year, the Apple Harvest Festival draws tens of thousands of visitors to downtown Southington. There are many family-favorite traditions that festival-goers can count on, like the warm and sweet apple fritters, fun rides at the carnival, and of course, the annual parade.
That’s why this year’s parade grand marshals are the perfect choice for the 50th festival. By unanimous vote, this year’s committee announced Jim and Rosemary Champagne, along with their daughter, Tracey Bentz, as the 2018 AHF parade Grand Marshal.
“We wanted to do something special for the 50th AHF anniversary, and as the town’s second festival coordinator, we couldn’t think of a better person to name as Grand Marshal,” said AHF supervisory committee chair Chris Palmieri. “We always look for someone who has not only contributed to the festival, but to the town, and I think the Champagne family has exemplified that.”
Each year the AHF supervisory committee selects someone who represents leadership, good citizenship, and has given back to the community to serve as grand marshal. The Champagnes were the obvious choice for the golden anniversary.
Jim Champagne served as the festival coordinator for 10 years from 2008 to 2017, and it was a family affair. Champagne said he couldn’t have done it without the help of his wife and daughter.
“We are very proud and very blessed to have such an honor to appear in front of the whole town, especially on the 50th anniversary of the festival,” said Jim Champagne. “I want to thank my family, because without them, there would be no 10 years. My daughter Tracey was by my side all the time. My wife Rosemary was totally supportive of everything we did. The long hours took away a lot of family time, and I’m grateful to them for being there all throughout.”
Officials credit the Champagnes’ collective efforts to lift the festival up and make it what it is today. Rosemary helped with the AHF hostesses, organized the annual AHF gala, and was a large part of the festival’s success. Tracey ran the arts and crafts festival and sold out every spot each year. Tracey also coordinated the carnival money collection as well as handling the technical aspects. She also handled parking difficulties for vendors and local merchants, and operated the apparel booth.
“Being named grand marshal is a great honor for my family. We are very, very thankful,” said Tracey. “We loved running the fair and loved all the committee members who worked with us. We will forever be friends with all of them. Being a part of the festival was such a great experience.”
Jim Champagne accredited not only his family, but the committee chairs who helped make his job easier.
“The saying goes, ‘if you surround yourself with good people, your job becomes easier.’ Well, mine was absolutely smooth as could be,” he said. “All of our committee chairs were great people, who worked hard and had great work ethic. They changed my life and I’m very lucky to be a part of that.”
Jim said one of his goals was to formalize the festival and bring in more offerings for festival-goers. He also sought to provide something for everyone, and hone in on the family aspect of the festival.
“I think we accomplished that,” he said.
The Champagne family served an instrumental role in the festival, but they also served in other roles in the community. Rosemary and Jim were recognized on the “Wall of Honor” at the Southington High School. In 2011, Jim was named Elk of the Year at the Southington Lodge. He was also elected as chair of the board of trustees in 2013 and continues to serve in that capacity today.
In 2014, Rosemary and Jim were honored by the United Way of Southington as “Southington Stars.” Rosemary was an original founder of the Southington Relay for Life and served as its chair for 14 years. Jim served as the logistics chair for the relay for a decade. And Tracey, an owner of Awards of Elegance, continues to be a primary provider of trophies, plaques and awards for dozens of local organized sports teams.
The parade’s grand marshal serves an important role in the festival, which will celebrate its golden anniversary this year. Documentation on the early years of the festival is few and far between, so the complete list of all grand marshals has some holes. Missing from the list are marshals between 1972 to 1979 (with the exception of 1976 when rain stopped the parade both weekends).
The Southington Chamber of Commerce will have a float in this year’s parade featuring as many past Grand Marshals and AHF Queens as possible. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (860) 628-8036 to participate or provide information to fill in any of the missing years.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.