By DANIEL KITTREDGE A momentous year lies ahead for the new slate of officers on the Gaspee Days Committee. The 2022 edition of the annual festivities will mark the 250th anniversary of the burning of the British ship that gave the celebration its name -
A momentous year lies ahead for the new slate of officers on the Gaspee Days Committee.
The 2022 edition of the annual festivities will mark the 250th anniversary of the burning of the British ship that gave the celebration its name – an event known as the nation’s “first blow for freedom,” one that predated the Boston Tea Party and helped spark the American Revolution.
As the incoming officers gathered to be sworn-in ahead of a dinner last week at the Aspray Boat House, the sense of excitement surrounding the upcoming milestone was palpable.
“This is our crew for the next year, and it’s a huge year, because it’s the 250th year,” Mark Russell, a past president of the committee and the night’s emcee, told those gathered. “It’s going to be a lot of work, a lot of things to do, and as a family, we’re going to get it done. And I can guarantee you that come June of next year, you’re going to see the greatest parade you’ve ever seen.”
Added Steven Miller, the committee’s new president: “We’ve got a great group of people here. We’re going to be doing a lot of good things these coming years.”
The full slate of new officers includes Miller, first vice president Karen Kenney, second vice president Alfred Nazareth, corresponding secretary Jan Rooney, recording secretary Erin Flynn, treasurer Ann-Marie Richards, directors Scott Avedesian, Carol Deming, Paul Lotito and Jerry Peshka, and immediate past president Gina Dooley.
Before being administered their oaths of office by Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi, the new officers were backed by the all of the past committee presidents in attendance for the event – providing an “honor guard” of sorts, as Russell put it.
The Pawtuxet Rangers, a staple of the village and the Gaspee Days celebration, kicked off the brief ceremony, marching into the Aspray Boat House at Pawtuxet Park and presenting the colors during the Pledge of Allegiance.
State Rep. Joseph McNamara presented the new officers with citations from the General Assembly. Combined, he noted, the new officers have more than 250 years of service on the Gaspee Days Committee.
The upcoming 250th anniversary celebration, he said, will be “extremely special.”
“We intend to make this an event that will be memorable, and hopefully, it will be recognized across the United States,” he said.
McNamara also teased an upcoming moment Pawtuxet Village will have in the local spotlight. A film crew, he said, visited O’Rourke’s Bar and Grill earlier in the week to shoot for a series that will air on PBS in November.
“I can’t say too much about it. But it’ll be out in November and it will feature prominently Pawtuxet Village,” he said. “So we’re very, very thrilled about that.”
The occasion served to highlight – and provide some grist for – the friendly rivalry between the two cities in which Pawtuxet Village lies.
Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins – noting that Cranston was once known as Pawtuxet – said crews from his city have already started work on physical improvements to the village on the north side of the Pawtuxet River ahead of the 250th. To laughter and applause, he called on his Warwick counterpart to embark on a similar project.
“We have already started preparing for the 250th anniversary,” he said. “If you go to the Cranston side, we’ve already started cutting the sidewalks, painting the lanterns. On Sept. 12, we’re going to repave the street on the Cranston side. So my good friend, I’m challenging you right now, get it done.”
With a more serious tone, he added: “Cranston is here to help any way we can.”
Picozzi drew his own laughs with his response.
“I want to thank my good friend Mayor Hopkins for finally doing something about that side of the river,” he said.
The tight-knit nature of the Gaspee Days Committee, and the commitment of its members, was also evident during last week’s ceremony.
Russell, donning a Gaspee Days Arts & Crafts Festival cap from 1991 – “one of my newer hats,” he said with a smile – spoke of the role the committee, and the annual celebration, has played in his life for more than four decades. He referenced the “it takes a village” concept.
“The Gaspee committee’s a really unique thing … A big part of my village for the last 45 years has been the Gaspee Days Committee,” he said.
At the conclusion of the formal ceremony, Russell presented Miller with the “grill badge” that committee presidents are given to affix to their vehicle.
Miller, in turn, said he will be relying on the experience and assistance of his fellow officers and the committee’s past presidents in the months ahead.
“They’re the ones that I’m going to be leaning on,” he said.