The color guard leads the July Fourth Parade through downtown Brattleboro, Thursday. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
The color guard leads the July Fourth Parade through downtown Brattleboro, Thursday. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Friday July 5, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- On a stiflingly hot Fourth of July, Willie Gembarowski might have had one of the hottest jobs around -- tending an oversized grill loaded with sizzling chicken in the parking lot of Brattleboro's American Legion post.

But as the mercury rose higher toward the noon hour, Gembarowski was already thinking about rewards -- and not just the day's fundraising benefits for the Sons of the American Legion.

"Our reward," he said, "is a cold shower afterward."

With temperatures reaching 90 degrees, heat was the theme of the day for Brattleboro's July 4 celebration, which marked its 40th anniversary on Thursday. But organizers reported no major problems, and some participants in the morning parade said they saw no drop-off in attendance from previous years.

Outside First Baptist Church on Main Street, volunteers were peddling hot coffee when they started their day around 8 a.m. By the time the parade began rolling by a few hours later, sales trends for the church fundraiser had shifted.

"We're selling a lot of water," said Ray Holmes, a church trustee.

Many chose to simply stay out of the sun. That included, a short distance up the street, Williamsville resident John J. Feifel.

"It's a little warm," Feifel said as he enjoyed the shade in a folding chair in front of Brooks Memorial Library.

But that didn't stop Feifel from standing and saluting when the American flag rolled by.

And the heat also didn't stop others from saluting Feifel, an Army veteran.


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In the space of just a few minutes, a stranger handed Feifel a small flag, and another shook his hand to thank him for his service.

Looking out at Main Street's busy sidewalks, Feifel was pleased with the morning's turnout.

"It means they support us," he said.

In the chair next to Feifel was fellow veteran Richard Green, a Brattleboro resident who believes the country has become more patriotic in recent years.

"I think it's great that they come out here," Green said.

Taking cover under the trees near Windham County Superior Court was Robert Merz. He's 87 but wouldn't think of missing a July 4 parade.

"You know, it's a great part of Americana -- all the people standing and cheering," he said.

The Navy veteran of World War II found himself recalling his time in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, as well as the tough rations imposed on those on the home front.

"They couldn't get sugar," Merz said. "They couldn't get eggs."

He also can't help but note the dwindling number of World War II veterans, though he still runs into a few around town.

"I don't know how many of us are left," Merz said. "Once in a while, we see each other and we stop and chat."

Of course, the parade -- which snaked along Canal and Main streets to the town Common -- included a variety of non-military representatives. Among them was Brattleboro's Boys and Girls Club, and Executive Director Beth Baldwin said she had no trouble recruiting participants.

There were about 50 club representatives wearing blue T-shirts adorned with the slogan "Great Futures Start Here."

"The kids love to do it. For us, the kids vote with their feet," Baldwin said. "It's good for us to let people know the Boys and Girls club is here, and we are active."

Baldwin said her marchers drank plenty of water and had no issues with the summer swelter.

"It's a slow walk," she said. "It's not like we were running."

However, Cindy Pepyne was among those who chose to run. The Deerfield, Mass., resident participated in the morning's four-mile road race, and she met her personal goal of running roughly nine-minute miles.

Pepyne joked that "my goal was to not faint on the course." But she also had some practical advice for runners in hot weather.

"Just pace yourself," Pepyne said. "And I like to wear a white hat."

Back at the American Legion lot, Gembarowski had a white towel around his neck. His goal was to sell about 100 chickens; nearby, Justin Thompson and John Nebelski worked another busy grill.

Coordinating things was Spencer Bristol, who said the heat had not thinned the July Fourth crowds.

"They're running inside and cooling off before they come back out," Bristol said as the parade was ending. "It hasn't affected anything."

Parade spokesman Kevin O'Connor said he was aware of just one weather-related incident: He said Rescue Inc. treated a woman who was overcome by heat at the town Common.

Organizers also had to deal with a parade glitch. Plans for Windham County state Sen. Peter Galbraith to chauffeur local child-care provider/personality Alfred Hughes Jr. took a turn for the worse when Galbraith's yellow Mustang convertible overheated on Canal Street.

"They're going down hospital hill and everybody's cheering, and all of the sudden the car starts steaming and smoking," O'Connor said. "It was clear there was something wrong."

The folks from Brattleboro-based Be Heard Sound Productions quickly picked up the slack by picking up Hughes, O'Connor added.

"The parade went off without a hitch -- everybody seemed to be very happy," he said. "We were very appreciative to Peter Galbraith for driving Alfred halfway, and to Be Heard for driving Alfred the rest of the way."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS: Photos and video from Brattleboro's Fourth of July parade.