By SHERIDAN CYR
Crowds lined the streets in downtown Southington on Sunday afternoon for the 50th Apple Harvest Festival parade. Cheers and excitement filled the air as parade announcer Ed Dressel introduced each of the 112 parade units.
This year, 40 hand-painted apples added even more color and personalization to the annual parade as they were either drawn with carts or stood still on floats.
“It’s our version of those West Hartford cows. Down in Texas, they have their steer thing. Well, in Southington, we have our apples,” said Dressel. “Special thanks to the Southington Community Cultural Arts group. These are the people who decorated all those apples. They found the artists and matched them up to make them part of this event, the 50th Apple Harvest Festival.”
Several floats sought to showcase the festival’s historic past for its “Golden and Delicious” anniversary. It was fitting for the Southington Chamber of Commerce to feature past AHF Queens and grand marshals, as the Chamber founded the festival back in 1969 and organized it for 35 years.
“Look at them all there,” Dressel said. “The Chamber is proud to present this whole group of past Queens and grand marshals from the past 50 years.”
Emotions were high when the grand marshal float came through. Past festival coordinator Jim Champagne and his daughter Tracey Bentz waved to the cheering crowds, but they were missing one more. Rosemary Champagne, wife to Jim and mother of Tracey, was the third grand marshal. She passed away on Sept. 18, just before she could fill that role.
“In her spirit, her husband and her daughter, Jim and Tracey, who have been running the festival with Rosemary over the past 10 years, wanted to dedicate this day to her,” announced Dressel. “We feel exactly the same way, and by the way, not just for the Apple Harvest Festival, but for the past 10 years and everything you’ve done to elevate it, along with Rosemary. We are celebrating all that the Champagnes have done for the town. You’ve made Southington better, and Rosemary made us all a higher spirit.”
The car Champagne and Bentz were in stopped while Dressel spoke. The audience applauded and cheered for the family.
“Today was a bitter-sweet day,” said Champagne. “The reaction from the people was so warm. It was from the heart, and you could feel it. But, by the same token, we miss Rosemary. She would have loved this. It was a great day, and all the people she knew—She would have loved this even more than I do.”
The family has served an important role in the festival’s history.
“I’ve seen it from every angle: the stage, the parade route, and even from atop the grand marshal car,” said Champagne. “This is such a benchmark event, and it means so much to thousands of people—not just us. There are thousands of people who wait all year for this particular day, and that’s remarkable in this day and age.”
Chris Palmieri, chair of the AHF supervisory committee, thanked Heidi and Tony Lamberto, who organized this year’s parade.
“This was their first time as co-chairs of the parade and their diligence, organization, and attention to details made for a smooth day,” said Palmieri. “I’d also like to once again congratulate the Champagne family for leading us. The festival appreciates everything they have done.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com. John Goralski contributed to this article.
Observer coverage of the 50th anniversary festival