Snuggled in blankets, Kate Heffers and family had curbside seats.
They were part of history in Downtown Pittston Saturday afternoon as the city’s first St. Patrick’s Parade in over 70 years marched past them.
Heffers’ daughter, Mary Gregor of Plains Township, and grandsons Max, 8, and Declan, 5, brought along two friends and the group awaited the parade. Heffers’ husband, Joe, was marching with the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
“I think this is just fantastic,” Heffers, who grew up on Carroll Street, said. “I think it’s great to see Pittston the way that it is. I grew up in Pittston and it’s just great to see the way it came along. This is what it was like downtown, with all the shops and restaurants.”
The parade has been in planning mode for the past year.
Paul Reedy of Pittston Township, a parade organizer, called Saturday one of Pittston’s finest days.
“You’re seeing the rebirth of Pittston right before your eyes,” Reedy said. “It’s like enjoying the birth of a child. We put over a year of time and blood and sweat into this. We met month after month, week after week, planning and organizing and getting this to where it is today.”
He thanked a laundry list of volunteers and said it was a true team effort.
Ginger Murphy, a member of the parade committee who was selling commemorative T-shirts and sweatshirts, said it was a great day for the city.
“Everybody’s Irish today,” said Murphy said. “We’re mostly Italian around here, but we’re all Irish at heart.”
Most bars and restaurants opened early.
Murphy said she started the morning at the Knights of Columbus for coffee, then to the Majestic for breakfast. She went to the special 9:15 a.m. Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church hosted by Monsignor John Bendik, and set up the T-shirt tent in time for 11 a.m.
Toward the end of the parade, they were running out of shirts. “That’s a good problem to have,” joked Patrick Toole, a member of the parade committee.
More than 120 groups marched in the parade, , including numerous pipe and drum corps, Pittston Area’s band, public officials, the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and dozens of local businesses.
Colleen McAndrew of Duryea said the spring-like weather brought her and her family and her dog to watch the parade.
“The weather, the people, the fun, the excitement,” she said. “And we’re sick of the winter.”
Donna McFadden-Connors, a lifelong Pittston resident, former city councilwoman and Pittston mayor for 8 months, said that from 2003 on, the city has undergone a major transformation.
“I’m here today to celebrate Downtown Pittston, the revitalization over the years is amazing,” Connors said. “I have to say it started with the (Mayor Michael) Lombardo era and I was glad to be a part of it. And it’s continuing now with Mayor (Jason) Klush.”
Pittston has no problem hosting a large parade. The yearly Tomato Festival Parade draws tens of thousands of people to the downtown each year at the end of August.
The parade took the same route the popular Tomato Parade travels. It started at the fork on South Main Street came most of the way down Main Street and came back down Kennedy Boulevard and ended near Quinn’s Market
The late Paul F. Leonard, a local funeral director and past Man of the Year of the Greater Pittston Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, was posthumously named Grand Marshal of the parade. His his wife of 54 years, the former Mary Clare Quinnan, and his children represented him in the parade.
Patrick Toole, treasurer of the event, credited Reedy with getting the ball rolling on the parade by organizing an effort to post Irish flag and shamrock banners on the streetlights downtown. Reedy created a Facebook page called “Irish Flags for Downtown Pittston” and solicited donations to buy 40 banners at a cost of $2,000. Within 48 hours, the money was donated.
“That’s Paul’s baby,” Toole said. “The parade came out of those banners.”