NEWINGTON - Leading the townâ€™s contingent in the 2020 Greater Hartford St. Patrickâ€™s Day Parade are two people who represent the values of hard work and dedication to their community.
Newingtonâ€™s St. Patrickâ€™s Day Parade Committee has chosen Irish-American Maureen Fernandes as its Parade Marshal this year and Parks and Recreation Superintendent Bill DeMaio as the townâ€™s Honorary Person of the Year.
The committee is now organizing community groups and residents to march in the 49th annual parade, stepping off in rain or shine Saturday, March 14, at 11 a.m. on Hartfordâ€™s Capitol Avenue.
A fundraiser supporting Newingtonâ€™s participation is happening Sunday, Feb. 23 at the Irish American Home, 132 Commerce St. in Glastonbury, from 2-5 p.m. Admission is a $20 donation and there will be music, food and refreshments.
â€śThey used to have massive dinner fundraisers for this, with two- to three-hundred people,â€ť committee chairman Tommy McBride remembered of the early years, when a large concentration of Irish people lived in Newington and parade participation was through the roof.
It dwindled and ended altogether in the later years, until McBride and several other volunteers resurrected the committee in 2019. The former mayor of Newington is involved with several Irish organizations locally and still has family on the Emerald Isle.
â€śThe parade is a great event for the greater Hartford community,â€ť McBride said. â€śIt usually hints that spring is around the corner.â€ť
The 88-year-old Fernandes, whose maiden name is Glennon, left Ireland in 1954 at age 24 seeking a better life. She married a Portuguese man named Andrew Fernandes and the two spent many years working to fight discrimination in her homeland.
â€śAndrew fell in love with the politics and history of Northern Ireland and got to know it even better than I did,â€ť Maureen remembered of her husband, who passed away 19 years ago. â€śI am so blessed to have found him.â€ť
When Newingtonâ€™s parade committee was choosing its 2020 honorees, Maureen came to mind immediately.
â€śTalk about people who have committed their lives to Irish freedom - she and Andy were at the forefront of work there,â€ť McBride explained.
He met Maureen in Hartfordâ€™s Irish Northern Aid organization, which provided support to oppressed Roman-Catholic families during â€śThe Troublesâ€ť in Ireland, before the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.
They are both still very much involved.
â€śTo this day thereâ€™s still discrimination and people who canâ€™t find proper jobs or housing because theyâ€™re Catholic,â€ť McBride said over coffee and Irish soda bread in Maureenâ€™s kitchen.
â€śI always loved this country,â€ť she pointed out. â€śThat doesnâ€™t mean I donâ€™t love my homeland. I came here to better myself. Then I thought, shame on me if I donâ€™t do something to help.â€ť
DeMaio may not have a drop of Irish blood himself, but he emulates the strong will of the Irish-Americans that started Hartfordâ€™s parade all those years ago.
â€śSince he came on board with Parks and Rec thereâ€™s been a complete turnaround with improvements made in Newington,â€ť McBride pointed out. â€śAs a former mayor, I know how important it is to have strong leadership. Weâ€™re very lucky to have him joining us.â€ť
DeMaio said he was â€śtotally honoredâ€ť to be selected as the townâ€™s 2020 Honoree.
â€śMy father always loved this parade,â€ť he added. â€śHe must be looking down from heaven and smiling.â€ť
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How you can help:
WHAT: Newington St. Patrickâ€™s Day Parade Committee Honors
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 23 from 2-5 p.m.
WHERE: Irish American Home, 132 Commerce St., Glastonbury
HOW: Donation of $20