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'Big Bird' the gold standard for Schenectady’s Fidelis Care Holiday Parade

'Big Bird' the gold standard for Schenectady’s Fidelis Care Holiday Parade

Participants have agreed to use plenty of gold for their acts -- the parades's anniversary theme is 'anything and everything gold'
'Big Bird' the gold standard for Schenectady’s Fidelis Care Holiday Parade
 Sara Semione, 21, rehearses for the Holiday Parade at Merritt Dance Studio on Albany Street Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The Bird is the word in Schenectady this week.

Big Bird, who lives in the live action, colorful world of television's "Sesame Street," will be one of the major attractions in Saturday's 50th anniversary Fidelis Care Holiday Parade.

The Big Bird balloon -- 20 feet tall and 140 pounds -- will wave to children and adults who line up along State Street for the 12-division, 2-hour parade. Mr. Bird will sit in a plywood "nest" and glow through the night, thanks to 1,000 electric lights.

The balloon, sponsored by Price Chopper/Market 32, will join 34 floats, 16 fire departments, eight school bands and a partridge in a pear tree -- someone will probably bring the smaller bird -- in the largest evening Christmas parade in the Northeast.

  • When and Where: the parade starts Saturday at 5 p.m. from SUNY Schenectady and proceed down State Street to Nott Terrace 

"For us, the key is contributing a unique float to this parade each and every year -- something we know will make people smile," said Mona Golub, a spokeswoman for the Golub Corp., which owns the Price Chopper/Market 32 stores.

Price Chopper/Market 32 joins Fidelis Care and Mohawk Honda as the parade's major sponsors.

Big Bird made the Price Chopper/Market 32 team for two reasons. One, the character's bright yellow color fit the parade's anniversary theme: "It's anything and everything gold," said Kaci Palleschi, events manager for The Daily Gazette, which is organizing the procession.

The second reason is another anniversary. "Sesame Street" will observe its 50th anniversary on television in November 2019.

The parade will follow the route used during the past several years. Musicians, dancers, twirlers and holiday revelers will walk and ride out of Schenectady County Community College and proceed up State Street. All will march and roll through downtown before making a left turn onto Lafayette Street and disbanding in the parking lot of the Bechtel Plant Machinery Co.

The parade started in the late 1960s, designed as a way for the Schenectady Downtown Merchants Bureau to promote businesses for the holiday season. Joe Dalton and Ed Lewi organized the first event, which featured some superstars from Saturday morning television. They were the Banana Splits -- guys in funny animal costumes who portrayed "Fleegle," "Bingo," "Drooper" and "Snorky," shaggy members of a "rock band."

The first parade had problems -- Santa Claus got lost and eventually was found inside a restaurant. Palleschi, who previously ran parade control at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, is not expecting similar headaches.

She said participants have agreed to use plenty of gold for their acts.

"Gold costumes, gold glitter, gold decorations, gold music -- music with gold in it -- golden girls," she said. "That's what I really wanted was someone to do a 'Golden Girls' float, but no one did."

Music will come from the Schenectady, Mohonasen, Schalmont, Amsterdam and Albany High School bands, as well as the Draper Middle School Band. Some professional outfits have also signed up.

The fire brigade will include Schenectady, Rexford, South Schenectady, East Glenville, Niskayuna and Stanford Heights, and rig drivers will make sure sirens and horns are in working order.

Also: Parade will offer moments of silence for Schoharie limo crash victims, Nov. 15, 2018

Price Chopper/Market 32 has sponsored balloons in the past. Kermit the Frog became a temporary company employee for the 2017 parade. In 2002, the company gave the air to Alvin the Chipmunk.

Alvin, in his bright red sweatshirt with the "A" emblazoned in front, was four stories tall. Getting the balloon under the 12-foot high railroad overpass on State Street was a tricky maneuver.

"With the helium balloons, you basically had the handlers with the big ropes holding it up," said Pam Cerrone, the supermarket chain's director of community relations. "We would just pull the balloon down, kind of lay it parallel to the road and take it under the bridge that way."

Big Bird will be easier to handle. Cerrone said that balloon will be filled with cold air supplied by a pump and generator; his platform will be pulled up the road.

"When we get close to the overpass, we turn off just enough air to let the balloon deflate so we can get it under the bridge," Cerrone said. "Once we get it on the other side of the bridge, we turn the pump back on and it blows back up to its full height."

Golub said parade participation has always been a natural move for Price Chopper/Market 32 -- a local, homegrown company supporting a local, homegrown parade.

"To be able to support this event, which kicks off the holiday season for the greater Capital Region, it's just wonderful to be able to support that and contribute to it and participate in it for the enjoyment of the season," Golub said.

Palleschi expects the usual large crowd.

"People are really excited for the anniversary," she said. "They're excited every year, but being the 50th, it's a big deal.

"It's a nice day for families. Everyone from all over the Capital Region likes to come out; we're just hoping it doesn't rain."

There might be some snow around. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Albany are expecting some of the white stuff Thursday and Friday.

Here are some other parade facts and quotes:

* A "pre-parade festival" will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. on Jay Street, near City Hall.

* Jeff Haraden, president of Mohawk Honda, will be the parade grand marshal.

* Baton twirlers from the Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady will catch the parade for the 50th time; Merritt students have been marching in the parade since the first big show.

"We were the original Schenectady baton studio," said founder Marlene Merritt, who runs the Albany Street operation with daughter Mara.

On Saturday, red-and-black clad baton twirlers will show off their timing and precision. Younger members of the troupe will carry batons stuffed with lights, part of the golden anniversary salute.

The team is ready.

"It's been going on for a long time," said Sara Semione, 21, of Niskayuna. "It's been a legend for 50 years; we want to keep up the image and not let anyone down. We also want to be role models for the new people joining the group."

Ciara Guinan, 13, of Rotterdam, said the twirlers display skills that are rarely seen in 2018.

"It's fun to let everyone know the baton is still around," she said. "Not that many people do baton anymore."

Majorettes who marched in the parade during the 1980s and '90s always have the chance to walk the State Street route again. They chaperone their children.

"It's fabulous," said Felicia Hunter, 43, of Schenectady, whose daughter Lucia, 9, is on the drill team and twin daughters Emmalyn and Mia, 7, are junior majorettes. "You're still part of something that's been in the area for 50 years."

* Parents and students at Brown School hope their float makes headlines. The float team will salute The Daily Gazette and the newspaper's long involvement with the parade.

Casey Hammer, who is organizing the float detail with Nicole Fatato, said the Brown entry will be titled "Fifty Years of Parade Memories."

"We have a few surprises up our sleeves," Hammer said. "We have a rotating '50,' a bunch of lights, beautiful decorations and lots of gold. We are honoring The Gazette, so there will be stacks of newspapers, a banner made of recycled newspapers and hats made from newspapers."

Music from the late 1960s -- when the first parade was held -- will bolster the aural experience.

Student contributions include extra editing on newspaper pages. Kids are using colored markers to write messages of love, peace and hope -- and draw Christmas trees, rainbows and pink hearts -- on the pages. The finished artworks will be rolled up and "delivered" to people along the parade route.

The Brown team will also take photos of the crowd from the street and post them to social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Spectators are also invited to take their own photos and send them to Brown. The hashtag is #Brownschoolparade, for people who want to see the galleries.

"This time of year is exciting for everyone," Hammer said. "We get to give a gift to our community and our school by building a float to share. It's absolutely exciting from beginning to end."

"I just love the sense of closeness and family within the school community," Fatato said. "Everyone just always lends a helping hand."

Also: Parade will offer moments of silence for Schoharie limo crash victims, Nov. 15, 2018

In addition to Fidelis, Price Chopper and Mohawk Honda, other parade sponsors include Schenectady County Community College, Schenectady County, Brown Transportation, ROTC, National Grid, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp, 1009th Airlift Wing, Key Bank, Schenectady County ARES EC, Mohawk Ambulance, Double Tree by Hilton, 1st National Bank of Scotia, Marshall and Sterling, SEFCU and DeLorenzo, Grasso and Dalmata, LLP.

Media sponsors include televisions's Fox 23 and News10 and radio stations Fly 92.3, B95.5, Alt 104.9, 100.9 The Cat, Jamz 96.3 and Magic 590 AM.

Contact Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or [email protected].

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