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Harvard’s Fourth of July returns as residents celebrate their post-pandemic freedom

With fireworks at Fruitlands already canceled and uncertainty about the lifting of state-imposed COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, the return of Harvard’s iconic Fourth of July festivities this week seemed unlikely.

But that uncertainty evaporated in late May when Gov. Charlie Baker announced that all state COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted May 29 and Massachusetts’ state of emergency would end June 15. Although Fire Chief Rick Sicard, head of Harvard’s Emergency Management Team, had previously nixed the idea of a parade and field events, once Gov. Baker made his announcement, the chief quickly approved the Fourth of July Committee’s request to put the town’s festivities back on the calendar, and committee members sprang into action.

The results of their work were on display Monday, a sunny, 75-degree day, as an estimated 700 spectators lined Ayer Road and Mass. Ave. to cheer this year’s half-mile-long parade as it marched from Depot Road to the fields at the Bromfield School for a traditional singing of the national anthem and flag raising, followed by games and races, including water games at a far end of the field, hosted by the Harvard Fire Department. The event had been scheduled for Sunday, July 4, but bad weather forced a one-day delay. The wait was worth it.

After a year of social distancing, Harvard residents were eager to reclaim traditional celebrations of July 4th. A healthy crowd swells along Ayer Road and Mass Ave. (Photo by Jen Manell)  MORE PHOTOS

“It’s all good,” proclaimed chair of the Fourth of July Committee Anne Hentz in a midafternoon interview. Once her committee had the go-ahead, she said, putting together the festivities was a scramble, but straightforward. The committee had to send invitations to everyone on its standard list of parade participants. “Not everyone answers, so you never know who’s going to show,” she said. Equipment for the field events was well organized, “each with its own bucket,” and “the DPW sets everything up,” she said. “The hardest part is getting people to work it.” This year, in addition to committee volunteers, the Bromfield varsity soccer team was on hand to help with the popular greased pole, egg toss, candy scramble, sack races, and other events.

Police, color guard lead the way

The parade kicked off shortly after 11 a.m. Three police cars led the way down flag-adorned Mass. Ave., blue lights flashing, sirens whoop-whooping, the department’s new all-wheel-drive Ford hybrid in the lead. They were followed by a color guard, five Harvard veterans led by retired Army 1st Lt. Thomas Callahan. Music was provided by 10 members of the Nashoba Valley Band, seated on a flatbed truck provided by Snag and Drag Towing of Townsend.

The color guard leads the parade past Town Hall. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

Several town organizations put in appearances, including Celebration; Carlson Orchards; the town beach lifeguards, who squirted youngsters in the crowd with a water cannon; a contingent of Girl Scouts and their leaders; children; and parents and teachers from the Village Nursery School. Everyone, it seemed, had candy to toss, from Tootsie Rolls to Lifesavers, eagerly snatched up by children.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, state Rep. Dan Sena, and their supporters were present to work the crowd. One marcher held a sign that read “Freedom to Vote.”

The usual parade of antique and classic cars was present, a dozen this year, including a vintage Ford Powermaster 1910 tractor driven by Kate Carlson-
Hardy. They were joined by a more contemporary procession, a first for the parade: nine all-electric and hybrid vehicles, from Teslas and Chevy Bolts to a Volvo XC-40 and Toyota Prius, representing the Harvard Climate Initiative and the Harvard Energy Advisory Committee.

Grand Marshals Billy Salter and Kathy Hewett greet the crowd from a Jeep. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

This year’s parade grand marshals, Kathy Hewett and Billy Salter of Elm Street, waved to onlookers from the back of a white Jeep owned and driven by Kim Manning. Hewett is a longtime member of Harvard Pro Musica, a choral group, and served as its president. She is active in the Garden Club and a force behind its annual plant sale. Billy Salter has served on various committees and task forces concerned with town center issues, and he was a driver of the development of the town center sewer system. “He is also a frequent voice at Town Meeting and in letters to the Press,” noted master of ceremonies Julian Iverson in his introduction. “Although he may be more visible and vocal, most people agree that Kathy gets more done,” he quipped.

Hewett and Salter were followed by Bruce and Ellen Leicher, Harvard’s 2020 Citizens of Note, seated in a fire-engine red 2003 Ford Mustang convertible provided for the occasion by Mark Fermanian of Gervais Ford and driven by Peter Hentz. The couple was recognized by the Select Board at May’s Town Meeting for their many contributions to the town.

The parade came to a close as a line of fire engines, their ear-piercing sirens and horns braying, made their way from the crest of Ayer Road by Town Hall through the four-way intersection at the General Store. Last in line was a 1995 Smeal Spartan 75-foot ladder truck originally from the Totowa, New Jersey, volunteer fire department, driven by Alex Luther of Pepperell. As the final engine passed police Sgt. James Babu, who had kept traffic and pedestrians separated during the half-hour event, the crowd fell in behind and made its way down Mass. Ave. for opening ceremonies at the library.

Let the games begin

There, at noon, Rachel Molnar, a 2021 Bromfield graduate, stepped to a microphone on the steps of the town library to sing the national anthem, a cappella, as a pair of Boy Scouts raised a flag to mark the event while the honor guard stood at attention nearby. At the midfield Lions Club food pavilion, a line of hungry attendees already stretched halfway across the field. After brief remarks by Iverson and committee chair Hentz, it was time for the games to begin. As kids attempted the greased pole, ate pies, scrambled for candy, or took part in a sack-race or water game, the crowd was serenaded by the Rafters, Miki and Dave Fitzgibbons of Lovers Lane, accompanied by keyboardist Greg Compagnone.

Ethan Lackner and Morgan Holt try to get the ball out of their territory in a game of water polo. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

By 2:30 p.m. the games and races were done and the field was emptying. Dylan and Pete’s ice cream truck had sold out its most popular items, and the Lions Club was packing up. There was one reported mishap: John Iverson, father of Julian and field events co-coordinator, fell and broke his clavicle while taking part in an afternoon relay.

Hentz said this year’s parade and events cost roughly $6,000. The committee had money in its account and raised somewhat less than $1,000 from sponsors, enough to cover expenses. Harvard’s Fourth of July is self-funded and receives no money from the town, Hentz noted. The best way to support the committee is through the purchase of a T-shirt or a leather-handled tote bag, a new item that Hentz says has been popular. These and other items were on display at the committee’s booth, and may be purchased at the committee’s website throughout the year. “And we’re always looking for volunteers to join our committee,” she added.

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