Duckler: The parade in Concord was canceled, but there’s still plenty to talk about

  • Kendra Bean and Otto Flint watch the parade on the corner of Main and Court streets in 2018.

  • Neighborhood kids including Grace Smith, Lily Savoy, Rosie Seekamp, Jack Smith, Sam Smith and Parker Savoy enjoy the parade in the parking lot of what was then Cindy Ann Cleaners in 2011.

  • Otto Flint sits on the steps with his flag.

  • The 1965 Memorial Day Parade in Concord. Courtesy photos

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/23/2020 4:37:22 PM

The Memorial Day Parade in Concord was canceled this year.

Disappointing, yes, but an interesting history lesson surfaced:

The old Chapel-Street Gang.

This group of friends shaped its own history, turned it into a tradition at an event that began with ice cream and burgers for the kids during the 1970s, then moved to coffee for those same kids at middle age.

Those images needed a little dusting off, but they were there, packed away and then unpacked, never totally fading from view.

“The best thing was waiting for the candy,” said Noelle Croteau Seekamp. “I recall music and knowing how far the parade went. Just the music and listening to the bands, we had tears in our eyes from certain songs.”

Croteau’s middle name, her maiden name, carries great meaning here. There were eight Croteau children growing up in Concord. With their parents, that meant these 10 spectators would be in attendance, nearly guaranteed, each Memorial Day, waiving at firefighters, waving the flag, waving at anyone who moved on North Main and South Main Streets, which surrounded Chapel on each side.

This was prime real estate, allowing the dozens of Chapel-Club members to rush down to see the parade pass on North Main Street, then race back in the opposite direction to North State Street and see it pass there as well.

Not every single person in the club lived on Chapel. Rollins Street connected to Chapel, and from that corner, North Main Street was a mere 150 yards away.

In fact, the Croteau family lived on Rollins, and the matriarch, Pauline Croteau, lives in that same house today. She’s 92, and her house in recent years has become home base for coffee and refills, before and during the parade.

But while gathering info for this column, it was clear that Chapel had been chosen as the identifying street to mark this long standing piece of local history.

Remember, the Woodstock Music Festival was really in Bethel, N.Y. Just one of those things, a fact with meaning hidden for many years.

“We’d always meet at my mom’s house,” said Michelle Croteau Bean, who still lives on Chapel “We’d walk down to what is now Cleary Cleaners and we’d watch the parade.”

Her brother-in-law would park his pickup truck, cargo bed facing North Main, and the kids would pile in and watch the fire engines and bands go by.

That won’t happen. Not this year.

The volunteer board that coordinates the parade has been shrinking. So has the parade. Paul Lloyd, the lifeblood of the event, tried to hand off his do-it-all responsibilities and retire last year, but no one stepped up, so he came back for a final time in 2019.

Jamie Tibbetts, Lloyd’s stepson, agreed to take the reins during their discussion on Memorial Day last year.

“He could use the help,” Tibbetts said. “He always tried to do everything himself, with his own two hands.”

Postponing the event this weekend was a no-brainer. As Tibbetts noted, “The veterans would be at high risk and we did not think it was a responsible thing to do. We could have spaced out the crowd, but these people are older and it would have been more of a risk.”

So no parade, not this year, and that’s the best time to revisit. In those early days, the Chapel Street kids saw a festival that looked really big to them. The people, the fire engines, the bands always look bigger when you’re a kid.

Four and five decades ago, traffic was not permitted downtown, giving the children more room to walk, sit, breathe.

“As a kid, we would sit there on the curb, and run across the street between the marching,” remembered Seekamp. “And I might have marched in it with the Girls Scouts or Brownies, but I can’t remember.”

She remembers the streets, both Chapel and Rolling, and the whole South-End area, really. There were more attractions in the parade then, more vehicles, more people, more marching.

Yes, apathy has set in, an indifference toward the memories that these veterans brought home with them. Memories of death and camaraderie and courage. There was stuff, battle incidents, that they never talked about for decades and never would.

None of this has been lost on the Chapel Street Gang. They’ve made it their business to embrace and appreciate the parade each year. What it represents. Why we should show up for a tribute to the fallen, held each year at this time.

Bean knows. All too well. She works at the New Hampshire Veterans home in Tilton. She sees the faces of those who sacrificed and lost friends. Every day.

And Bean’s father, Ernest, was in the Navy during the Second World War. He was injured after a Japanese kamikaze smashed into his ship. His name hangs on a banner at the corner of Main and Capitol Streets.

“I’m a sap anyway when it comes to anything to do with Memorial Field and Veterans Day,” Bean said. “(My dad) was very patriotic and instilled that in each and every one of us and that has never changed. This is another reason why we love going to the parade, to honor those men and women so they are not forgotten.”

Her father died in 1987. The Chapel story, the one attached to the parade, began long before. No one really knows when. But the roots planted and connections created still fill the streets in that area.

Pauline Croteau, mother of all those Croteaus, is 92 and has lived on Rollins her whole life. Sue Croteau married Roger Phillips, and the couple raised their three children for a time on Chapel. They still own the house, they’ve rented it out to their children and, in fact, Bean and her daughter live there now.

Linda Thackeray loved the parade as a kid. She’s been credited with helping to keep the tradition alive.

“I’ve been here for 50 years,” Thackeray said. “For us it was cool that the parade passed by both ends of our street. It used to end at the VFW or the Moose Club. They were side by side, and we would sneak over there and have hamburgers and hotdogs.”

Everyone expected this, that the virus would stop the parade and all forms of sports and activities.

Take a break and reflect, and you notice a few things have changed. Cindy Ann Cleaners is now Cleary Cleaners. The Fife and Drum Restaurant is now the Tea Garden.

The parade, though, has remained pretty much the same.

“It’s a wonderful old family event that is meaningful,” Thackeray said. “You find out it’s been canceled, and that’s too bad, but it’s 50 years and we’re still going.”




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