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Letters: Thanks for making the return of Bel Air’s July 4 celebrations a success | READER COMMENTARY

On behalf of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc., I wish to thank the greater Bel Air and Harford County community for its support of and response to the 2021 Bel Air July 4th Independence Day Parade.

We on the committee didn’t know what to expect this year, after the pandemic. Would we have any bands? Would we have any community entrants? Would there be any spectators? Most important: would we even be permitted to hold our parade, as a matter of public safety? And, by the way — would it rain, as it did in four out the last five years we had a parade here?

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So, I guess, considering everything, we were lucky, and we are happy. The numbers were a bit diminished, both in the number of local high school bands and also in some of the out-of-town bands whom we have grown accustomed to hosting, but those that were able to regroup in time to furnish a unit for the parade did a great job! The enthusiasm of everyone was palpable and absolutely wonderful, making it a joyous event. And although I have been the Bel Air July 4th Parade Chairman for 29 years and a member of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee beginning in 1988, I don’t think I remember our ever having a better weather day!

Bottom line — we hope we delivered a memorable parade, one worthy of our Town, our community and our magnificent country, the United States of America, whose Independence Day we celebrate.

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The Bel Air July 4th Parade shows the greater Bel Air area to be a patriotic, fun and accessible family-oriented community. Many people do not realize that the Bel Air July 4th Parade, as part of the overall Independence Day celebrations in Bel Air, is funded and run by an independent not-for-profit organization, the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc., which has a vision of what the parade should be, and tries, to the best of its ability, to bring this vision to reality. The Committee relies on the contributions of individuals, businesses and municipalities — contributions of time, effort, and funds. We interact with Town government and law enforcement, and with the Department of Public Works. The Committee also takes into account the needs of the Town itself, and the sheer practicality and logistics inherent in mounting such an event.

It is also surely significant that our Committee has received such support from our general community for the parade, beginning with our premier sponsor and fireworks sponsor, Jones Junction. Thanks, Jones Junction!

I wish especially to thank the Town of Bel Air Commissioners, led by its Chairperson, Mayor Amy Chmielewski, and Commissioners Donna Kahoe, Kevin Bianca, Erin Hughes and Patrick Richards. Thanks also go to Town Administrator L. Jesse Bane and Town Director of Human Resources and Administration Michael Krantz, and their staff, including Patti Parker and Julia Potler in particular. I also wish to thank Chief of Police Charles Moore, Sgt. Matt Gullion, Officer Rick Krause and the entire Bel Air Police Department, and Town of Bel Air Public Works personnel, led by Stephen Kline, and especially Chuck Arnold and Freddie Murillo, and the rest of the fine, hardworking DPW staff.

Sponsoring organizations overall include the Bel Air Auxiliary Police Unit, the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., the Town of Bel Air and the Lions Club of Bel Air. The Committee also received cash contributions from many individuals and businesses, as listed in our program, 20,000 copies of which were distributed throughout the area in the days before the event.

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Members of the Bel Air Police Department, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Fire Police, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and other participating agencies helped us mount the parade — directing traffic, shuttling buses, helping lead the horses through the back streets, sealing off roads, etc. Most important of all was their help at the intersection of E. MacPhail Road and Route 924, where every parade unit and all the buses were checked in and routed to the staging area. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Thanks also to the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company personnel, marshaled by Chief Paul Chizmar, and coordinated by Chief Stephan Cox.

I can only imagine the trouble and stress our local Harford County high school band directors encountered, in trying to get back on track after a year no rehearsals, no practices, and no band activities. I know how difficult it is to get a band together to march and play, in the middle of the summer, in any year, and in this one, our event happened just a few weeks after permission to parade was even granted.

And so, I give great thanks to Aberdeen High School Band Director Kaitlyn Wittman, C. Milton Wright High School Band Director Dr. Joel Frisch, Edgewood High School Band Director Evan Schutz, Harford Technical High School Band Director Andrew Rising, Havre de Grace High School Band Director Richard Hauf, Joppatowne High School Band Director Joshua Baker and North Harford High School Band Director John Wojciechowski. And I look forward to 2022 when we will have everyone back.

To the many businesses, churches, clubs, individuals and organizations who participated in the parade — you truly exemplify what it means to be public-spirited, patriotic and community-minded. The decorated floats, cars and marching units were many and colorful; your patience and spirit of fun shone brightly through the evening, all the way until the end of the parade.

I want to also thank our elected public officials for their cooperation and spirited participation, and for their willingness to understand our vision of the Bel Air July 4 parade.

We all send our grateful appreciation to the residents and businesses on Idlewild, Emmorton Road and South Main Street, who kindly allowed us to marshal the parade in front of and all around them. Without all this support, we could not have held the parade.

It takes hours and hours of commitment and hard work from many, many volunteers to make a parade happen, and I need to send many, many thanks to our many, many volunteers, including Parade Marshals Jordan Lawson, Gavin Lawson, Alicia McLain, Hope Yamagata, Perry Thompson, Debby Stewart, Vince Nohe, Bill McCutcheon, John McCutcheon, Colleen Murphy, Mike Powell, Matthew Powell, Connor Gauthier, Aaron Cahall, Scott Adams, David Williams, Annette Blum, Korryne Leilich, Gerry Hinkle, Tom Hinkle, Rick Grant, Chris Vandeverg, Ted Vandeverg, Todd Yamagata, Doug Rudd, Derek Rudd, Greg Cooper, Doug Norton, Deb Wood, Scott Coykendall, Scott Tinney, Rich Thurfield, Griffin Thurfield, John McLain, Phyllis Pahutski, David Matthews, Allison Redman and Don Stewart.

Banners were carried by members of Pack 777 and various team members from Bel Air Recreation Leagues, thanks to the help of Mike Stritzinger of Harford County Parks & Recreation; the banner-carrying was managed by Hope Yamagata.

The Parade Master of Ceremonies was again the incomparable Don Morrison. Narration coordination, to keep the narration matching the actual parade, was handled by Jordan Lawson and Perry Thompson. The National Anthem was beautifully sung from the Reviewing Stand by Former Miss Maryland Allison Redman. Debby Stewart was the Marshals’ Shuttle, bringing us cold drinks and hot dogs all evening! Don Stewart managed all walkie-talkie communications. Vendors along the parade route were coordinated by John Hayes.

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All the bands in the parade were sponsored by area businesses, including APGFCU; Balsamo, Stewart, Lutters & Ruth, CPAs; Buontempo Brothers/Tower Restaurant; Carsins Run at Eva Mar; HAR-CO Credit Union; Harford Bank; Jarrettsville Federal Savings & Loan Association; Jones Junction; Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland; Plaza Ford; PNC Bank; Rosedale Federal Savings & Loan Association; and TD Bank.

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If by any chance I’ve left out someone who worked with us on the parade, or contributed to it, please accept my apologies, and my personal thanks, for your volunteerism and commitment.

Our parade judges (who choose to remain anonymous) evaluated and ranked the various units in categories for performance and appearance awards and prizes. All units were judged as to how well they adhered to, or displayed the parade’s theme: “Honoring our Healthcare Heroes,” (of particular importance this past year). Particular praise goes to the “Salute to Essential Workers” float, which won the “best float” award. This float truly showed how to take a theme, believe in it, and make it real.

Every year, I think about the event, and try to identify an “unsung hero” — someone who acted in such a significant way, perhaps beyond expectations, making the parade happen. My vote for the “unsung hero” award this year has to be split in half: first, to Jordan Lawson, who was thrown into the breach to do the communication with the reviewing stand of the narration of the units. Jordan, you were terrific! And, to Hope Yamagata, in charge of the banners, who had to cope with the largest number of sponsor banners we’ve ever had, and who had to cope with changes of order on the fly.

And finally, I’d must, again, and as strongly as I am able, personally thank Don Stewart, President of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc. It is thanks to Don’s continuing vision, and his thoughtful and caring support, that Bel Air is able to have such a celebration. Without the visionary ideals of Don Stewart, nothing of value or quality could occur. I said it in 2019, and the events of the past two years have simply hammered it home: it was a happy day for the greater Bel Air community when Don and Debby Stewart chose to live here.

And now — it’s time to start working on 2022!

MICHAEL BLUM

The author is the parade chairman of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee.

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