Flag Day parades are all week in the Capital Region. But not in Rotterdam.
The annual parade, historically hosted by the Elks Lodge on Curry Road, didn’t happen this year.
Instead, the lodge held an in-house service Monday at 6:30 p.m., four days before the holiday. The 59th annual Flag Day service featured speeches from members about the history and expansion of the American flag. While the event drew in a patriotic crowd of roughly 50 attendees, including members, it didn’t feature the usual parade staples like the Mohonasen High School marching band.
The lodge didn’t have someone to chair the parade this year, as older members are increasingly becoming unable to do so and the organization is having trouble getting younger participants to join, according to Thomas Salli, the committee chairman for veterans affairs.
“It’s been tough. Every organization, as they go on through the years, the people that used to support it became old,” Salli said. “They passed away or just can’t make it anymore. We can’t get the younger people to come up and replace them.”
At the Elks, Salli considers himself a “whipper snapper,” although he’s been a member for 14 years. For the last decade and a half, he has led men to the VA hospital twice a year and distribute breakfast. They serve ice cream at the VA six times a year. He’s proud of the work he does, which includes other roles at the Elks, too.
The organization has about 60 members “doing everything” and sharing responsibilities. Salli said this is similar to his American Legion group, where only 54 members are keeping the organization together in Rotterdam.
“They have all different hats,” Salli said. "A lot of these guys have eight other things to do.”
While the Elks tries to get younger people interested in their events with ads in the paper, it can be a daunting task.
“That’s about the only thing you can do,” Salli said. “You can’t force them to do it.”
The organization’s decision to not hold the parade came just a year after Troy called it quits on its 50-year-old annual Flag Day celebration.
The Troy Flag Day Committee said in a statement last year that hosting the event was “no longer realistic.”
The committee cited “the rapid loss of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans passing away over the past decade” as a factor for a decline in attendance and participation in the parade. Troy's deputy director of public information wrote in an email that “organizers for the Flag Day parade ended the event in 2018 after 50 years, citing dwindling interest and considerable costs and logistics to organize.”
For the Rotterdam Elks, however, the parade’s history isn’t completely over.
Ray Slingerland, past district deputy to the Elks' grand exalted ruler and past state vice president, said although the Elks need someone to step up for next year’s parade, he doesn’t want anyone to count it out for next year.
“Basically, we need somebody to chair it. It’s getting harder and harder to find somebody to take the bull by the horns,” Slingerland said. “Our hope is to [have it next year].”
Still, even with just the ceremony this year, Salli said he hopes attendees took away a “greater feeling of love” for the American flag.
Parades still taking place:
Burnt Hills, 18th annual Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Flag Day Parade
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Route 50, From Kingsbury Road to Forest Road.
Clifton Park, Elks 47th annual Flag Day celebration
When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Elks Lodge at 695 MacElroy Road, Ballston Lake