wili-am Posted on 12:44 pm


Thousands come out for Boom Box Parade
by Kara Voght, Chronicle Correspondent
July 7, 2009

WILLIMANTIC — Many Americans spent Saturday celebrating our independence with cookouts and fireworks.

Willimantic area residents, however, honored the spirit of 1776, community togetherness and American ingenuity, by putting on the 24th annual Fourth of Jully Boom Box Parade downtown.

As early as 9 AM, parade marchers lined up in Jillson Square to decorate floats, work on costumes, and talk excitedly with acquaintances and friends.

The event, sponsored by WILI 1400 AM, is considered the one yearly event that brings the whole town together.

“It’s a community thing,” said Lisa Rasicot of the Willimantic Lions Club, as she and fellow Lions worked on decorating their vehicle.  “It’s nice to see the community come together and do something fun.”

The parade lineup featured a wide variety of participants, ranging from local businesses to community awareness groups to sports teams.  Some decorated extravagant floats, while others brought their vintage cars to showcase, like a 1966 Cobra or a 1960 Chevrolet.

David Walencewicz, participating with the Willimantic Little League, was among those setting up in the hours before the parade.  For him, the parade is an important reminder to his players about the value of a community.  “The kids are really excited about today,” Walencewicz said.  “They may not remember how many games they won or lost playing baseball, but they will remember events like this.”

As almost any Willimantic resident can recall, the Boom Box Parade began in 1986, when the town of Windham couldn’t get a band for its Memorial Day Parade.  A month later, on July 4 that year, WILI played parade music and encouraged marchers and watchers to bring their boom boxes, allowing the community to have parade music, without a band.

This year’s parade director, Tara Risley of the Windham Recreation Department, is a veteran of the event.  “I’ve been doing this for 15 years.  This is Willimantic’s special event–it belongs to Willimantic,” she said.  Risley mentioned that, while the parade often serves as a forum for political expression, she thought this year might be less.  “It’s not a real big political year–more just families coming out and having a good time,” she said.

Political commentary did not permeate the parade, but was still apparent nonetheless.  Some parade goers carried signs declaring “Sub-prime Senator,” with a characature of U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

Doug Cates of Chaplin decorated a float with signs stating, “Save Main Street, not Wall Street,” reminding parade goers of another important American value:  freedom of speech.  It’s freedom of expression–it’s Independence Day,” he said.

Unlike many parades, in which only elected officials and major businesses and groups are allowed to participate, the Boom Box Parade permits anyone to march, as long as they bring a radio and wear some red, white, and blue.   While advances in car stereos and iPods seem to have made the boom box obsolete, the spirit of wide participation remains the same.

This, said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is what makes this parade particularly special.   “It’s a very democratic event, in that all kinds of people are able to participate.  It celebrates diversity and free speech,” he said.  Courtney was among some of the politicians marching in the parade.

Marching with Courtney was state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.  “This is the best parade in the state.  The name is important…it definitely ‘booms’ across the state,” Blumenthal said.

While the event is a distinct Willimantic tradition, its uniqueness attracts people from all over.  Annette Senechal now lives in Hebron, but remembers hearing about the parade on TV when she lived in Texas.  Now a local, she attends regularlly to watch her children march and brings her mother from Texas up to see the event, declaring it “very unique.”  Senechal was just one of thousands who lined up in the streets of Willimantic for the parade.

As the parade passed by, watchers waved and cheered for their neighbors and friends, while children excitedly raced out into the streets to grab the candy marchers plentifullly tossed out to the crowd.

Arnaldo Rivera, Willimantic selectman, marched in the parade for the first time.  He reflected the general spirit of the day shared by marchers and watchers alike.  “This is the biggest celebration as a community. I’m proud to be a part of it,” Rivera said.