PAWTUCKET — David Lemmel and his seven-year-old twins — David Jr. and Faith — had just strolled out of the city's YMCA when they heard the commotion occurring down the hill. Wondering what the hubbub was about, they chose to investigate.
Not quite an hour later, little David — wearing a Boston Celtics' hat and green T-shirt under his winter jacket — found himself break-dancing on Roosevelt Avenue. That came at the behest of Pawtucket native Paris Fisher, who knows the boy from Underground 101, a youth ministry group out of the North Providence Assembly of God.
The tyke's moves were so impressive, representatives of the Pawtucket Prevention Coalition and the Dancin' Spirit Dance Studio asked him to join them, and so he did.
Little did the boy know when he left the YMCA that he soon would be walking in the 29th annual Pawtucket St. Patrick's Day Parade, which took place in windy, 50-degree conditions on Saturday afternoon.
When asked how he learned to break-dance, David Jr. proudly stated, “I'm self-taught. I just like to move around, I guess, because I'm a crazy kid.”
Hundreds of folks traveled from near and far to partake in the fun. Folks lined the streets between Jenks Junior High and the “finish” in front of City Hall to catch a glimpse of the event's many floats, organizations, etc.
“When we heard the music and stuff, I asked the kids if they wanted to check it out, and they said, 'Yeah!'” laughed David Lemmel Sr. of Providence. “We wanted to be a part of it, and we're glad we did.
“I was into hip-hop when I was a teen, and for me, it was really positive,” he continued. “It also crosses ethnic, racial and socioeconomic lines. I wanted to expose my kids to how cool it is. David is really getting into it, and that's excellent. I think this is a real confidence boost for him.”
The parade included five divisions, the first led by “St. Patrick” himself. (OK, the role was played beautifully by Fr. Joe Paquette of St. Teresa Church).
Among those walking in the initial Grand Marshal Division were, appropriately, 2011 Marshal George Kelley, and also Mayor Don Grebien; the R.I. Firefighters Pipe & Drum corps; the parade committee; federal officials such as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse; state officials (Lincoln Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond and Mayors Charles Lombardi of North Providence, Daniel McKee of Cumberland and Allan Fung of Cranston); “Federal Blues,” a Colonial marching band based in Warren; Irish Social Club members; and the “Faces of Ireland,” those selected by the parade committee's contest, held naturally at the Celtic Pub back on Feb. 20.
Other highlights included the Springfield (Mass.) Kilties; Big Nazo Puppets; Hills Mills Clown Band of Fall River; Miss Rhode Island/USA Kate McCaughey, Miss Teen R.I. Lindsey Bucci, Mrs. R.I./America Sarah Richard, Miss Rhode Island Deborah St. Vil and Miss R.I. Outstanding Teen Selena Wang; the Nite Life Entertainment Parade Band of Warwick; PawSox mascots “Paws” and “Sox;” the Glocester Light Infantry Band of Chepachet; Firehouse Dixieland Band of Worcester; the World War II Re-Enactment Unit from East Providence; and, of course, several fire engines from Pawtucket and Lincoln.
Before the parade had reached the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center on Main Street, pals Gayle Ginish and Corrine Thibodeau sat on a cement wall as others anxiously awaited its arrival.
“This is only my second time at this thing,” grinned Ginish, a city native. “I had nothing to do at the house, so I figured this would be fun. I like the atmosphere, watching people walk up and down the street wearing ridiculous outfits.”
Offered Thibodeau: “We've been friends for about three years now, and we didn't come to see anything special, just the whole thing.”
Perhaps 10 yards away, Rory Robbins, 11, of West Warwick, wore a funky green, white and orange stovepipe hat, courtesy of his father's wallet.
“I work as an R.N. at Memorial (Hospital), and a lot of people there had asked me if I was going,” revealed Randy Robbins. “I woke up this morning and figured, 'Why not?' I asked my boys (Rory and Ryan) if they wanted to go, and they were excited. I've never been to one of these before, so we're glad we came.”
When questioned if the hat was a bit too wild, Randy immediately laughed, “For him? No way. He colors his hair when he goes to the Providence Bruins' games, so this is low-key.”
Keith Lambert, who owns New England Novelty in Pawtucket, trudged down Roosevelt Avenue with a cart filled with toys, T-shirts, bubble guns and other items to help customers commemorate the Irish holiday. Dressed in another colorfully-crazy outfit, he indicated his vending business was off a bit from last year.
“It's a little cold and windy, and I think the economy has something to do with it, too,” he noted. “Business almost always depends on the weather. When the sun's out, people spend cash … I've been doing this for five years, mostly to make money, but now that I have a nine-month-old daughter, Lilly Grace, every time I see a kid, I think of her.
“She's made parades fun for me again.”
Seconds later, Providence resident Teresa Kelly approached Lambert and asked him about a few of his hats for sale. When she explained she only had $5, a friend of hers immediately piped up, “I'll help you.”
Not long after, she returned to her lawn chair across the bridge from Slater Mill with a knitted, green-and-white “Erin Go Bragh” cap.
“I'm only 50 percent Irish, but I still love everything about this,” she grinned. “This is a nice parade because everyone is so happy. It seems everyone is looking forward to it. My favorite thing to do is see St. Patrick, even if he's not real.”
Stated Hazel Doesschate, Kelly's friend from Warwick: “I'm 100-percent Irish, as my father's last name was McHugh, my mother's maiden name Ellinwood, so I'm here because it's a tribute to my heritage. I love the music and seeing the spirit of the people, plus my friend, Marilyn Johnson, her sons are Pawtucket firemen, and they're marching.
“You know what's sad, though? You don't see any servicemen walking in it anymore,” she added. “I guess they're all gone.”
Prevention Coalition Coordinator Diane Dufresne had asked Fisher, a member of Faith Christian Center in Seekonk who works closely with her organization, if he would walk with her and other representatives. He jumped at the chance.
“I said, 'I'm there, Diane!'” he chuckled. “I do a lot of work with Christian youth ministries, including outreach ministry at Underground 101. That's how I met little David (Lemmel). I also do some after-school programs at Shea (High), Slater, Jenks and Goff with 'Project Peace,' which I started. It's an after-school music/arts program that concentrates on life skills and prevention messages.
“I must say, David (Jr.) is spectacular; he's amazing,” he continued. “I was so happy to see him here. I grew up in a hip-hop culture, and people sometimes have a negative view of that and rap, but I try to minister the kids through the elements of the cultures.
“We try to inspire purpose. My main goal is to spread the Gospel. I try to reach out and help people use the gifts that God gave him or her by using the gifts He gave me.”
The Firehouse Dixieland Band, a five-man group based in Worcester, is managed by Woonsocketer Russell Weissman, who acts as Executive Director for New England Band Productions, LLC. Band members consist of tuba player Mark Lammi, keyboarder Tom Sheahan, trumpeter Tony D'Angelo, saxophonist Lou Borelli and trombonist Dan Gabel.
“We've been together six or seven years now, but I'm not sure; we're lucky we can remember our names,” giggled Sheahan, who's 77 years young.
Noted Lammi: “We're here because we like to play and entertain people. They're just wonderful here in Pawtucket. They cheer us, and we hear a lot of clapping. They have a terrific time, and they help us have one, too.”
When the event ended, Mayor Grebien admitted he had as much fun as his children — Alexa, 11, and Connor, 9 — did riding in the Pawtucket Fire Department's Special Unit vehicle.
“This was my first St. Patrick's Day parade as mayor, and I have to commend the parade committee for working as hard as it did all year,” he stated. “They organized a super event.”
Grebien was asked to reveal his favorite part of the event. To be politically correct, he laughed, “All of them. No, seriously? What really excited me was the (Irish 5-K) Run (Saturday) morning. It was the first one we ever had, and there were close to 1,000 people who registered. That thrills me. It jump-started the parade and the festival.”