WHITEFIELD — Like most Fourth of July events, Whitefield’s beloved annual Independence Day parade was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. But that didn’t deter dozens of community members clad in red, white and blue who still got together Saturday to mark the day, celebrate Maine’s bicentennial, and wish each other a happy Fourth of July, all from a distance of course.

Instead of townspeople coming to see the traditional Kings Mills Fourth of July parade, organizers brought the parade to people where they were, with dozens of vehicles — many of them decorated for the dual themes of Independence Day and Maine’s 200th birthday — making a 10-mile loop through town. Many more dozens of onlookers watched and waved from lawn furniture, pickup tailgates and front porches along the route.

Much credit for Saturday’s event goes to Whitefield-raised Jerret Condon. He said it seemed like, with the cancellation of so many parades, fireworks displays and other holiday activities, that people wouldn’t be able to come together this year. That bothered him.

“There was nothing else happening so I just felt motivated to do this, in light of what everyone is dealing with and what 2020 has served up for us so far,” Condon, who now lives in Edgecomb, said of his decision to organize the cruise. “There’s been so much controversy, social unrest, the pandemic… This is the bicentennial year for Maine and I felt the community needed something to come together around, something that’s positive and grounding and brought us back to something simple and lighthearted.”

About three dozen cars and pickup trucks, one tractor, one big rig, and one helicopter on a flyover took part in the cruise. Among them were Whitefield residents Jon and Judith Robbins in a 1930 Model A closed cab pickup. It was the maiden voyage, of sorts, for the Model A after Jon Robbins spent the last two-and-a-half years working on it, putting it together, he joked, from parts of about 12 other vehicles. Though the couple has attended the annual parade pretty much every year, they were glad to have an alternative event this year.

“I think this was a really great idea,” Jon Robbins said from inside the cab of the green truck with “Whitefield” painted on its door. “A way to let the town mark the day.”

The cruise took the place of a parade, Condon said, as a way for the community to come together without actually physically being all together, elbow to elbow watching a more traditional event. The cruise also had a much quicker pace than a typical parade, with participants moving along at 15 miles per hour or so. Two would-be participants, on lawn tractors, were turned away from taking part out of concern their vehicles wouldn’t be able to keep pace.

Most spectators were spread out all along the route, in front yards of homes, businesses and Whitefield’s many farms. Most viewers smiled and waved. At least one man clapped the whole time the procession went by, wishing participants a happy Fourth of July as they motored past.

Event organizer Jerret Condon waves at spectators in front of Whitefield Elementary School on Saturday during the Independence Day cruise in Whitefield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Condon received prior approval from town officials, as long as it stayed within social distancing guidelines, and he worked with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Lt. Brendan Kane, in particular, to organize it. Sheriff’s deputies escorted the vehicles around the 10-mile loop and town firefighters lead the procession with a fire truck.

Greg and Cindy Glynn of Augusta and their 8-year-old daughter, Kelsey, sporting a lobster hat, rode along in the pickup truck of Kelsey’s grandparents, Dennis and Nancy Merrill of Whitefield. It was decorated with red, white and blue banners, a state of Maine flag on the tailgate, and “Celebrate Maine” signs on both sides.

“We’re doing some field engineering,” Dennis Merrill said as he strung up the banners as participants were staging in one lane of Townhouse Road, adjacent to Sheepscot Links Golf Club. He said he’d miss the parade but it was better to be safe than sorry, and replace it with a more socially-distant cruise.

Funds raised from the cruise will be donated in memory of residents who died in the last year. Funds will go to the Maine Children’s Cancer Program in memory of Connor McLean; the Whitefield Food Bank in memory of Leo Gould; and the King’s Mills Fire Association in memory of Mike Shaw. Between donations from participants, a 50-50 raffle, and donations collected from spectators along the way, the event raised $1,260 to be split between the three charities.

Condon emphasized on the event’s Facebook page he wanted the event to not be political or contentious, but instead to provide a respite from controversies for the day.

A dozen or so people, however — including artist Natasha Mayers, a longtime parade participant known for making political points in the parade — gathered on the roadside near the fire and rescue building with signs advocating for racial justice and Black Lives Matter.

Condon said he was grateful and supportive of the group’s effort to raise awareness and said “she was respectful of our ambitions and still found a way to voice what I personally consider an important cause.”

At least one motorcyclist, with a Trump flag mounted on his bike, was also spotted along the parade route.

Melissa Hunnibell of Alna, who volunteered to help direct event traffic, said her family has been involved in Fourth of July celebrations for generations in the area. She said she saw Condon’s post about the cruise on Facebook and wanted to help out because she saw it as an effort to bring out the community’s spirit.

Kristy Bryant of Jefferson took the cruise with husband Forrest, son Lucas and daughter Sadie in an immaculately restored 1986 Chevy Blazer that had its top removed. In past years she’s been content to watch the parade, but when she learned of the cruise idea of Condon, a childhood friend of her husband, they decided to help out and take part.

“It’s nice for everybody to take a break for the day and come together as Mainers and Americans,” Kristy Bryant said.

Jason Dmitrieff and his 11-year-old son Robin rode in their Cooper Mini, decorated with a large canvas rocket on its roof that they’d made that morning.

“It’s exciting and something safe we can do after all these months of quarantine,” Jason Dmitrieff said.

Robin said he wasn’t sure what to expect because he hadn’t done anything like the cruise before, but noted “I think it will be cool.”

Condon said he remembers riding his bike in the annual Fourth of July parade when he was 7 or 8 years old, and said the parade, until this year, has taken place every year since 1947.

“So by not having some type of event this year, on Maine’s bicentennial year, would have meant this was the year without a Fourth of July, in any community sense,” he said. “It may not be what we want to do, or what we’ve been doing for years, but we couldn’t just let this year go by without doing something.”

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.