Ridge gathers for festival
WEATHERSFIELD — As Bob Thompson rode through the Weathersfield Flag Day Festival parade in a car alongside members of the Weathersfield Fire Department, the 99-year-old lifelong resident of the township had the important task of tossing out treats to the excited crowd lining both sides of state Route 46.
“I really enjoyed it,” Thompson said, then quipped. “I got a broken arm from throwing all that candy!”
Thompson, who will celebrate his 100th birthday in August, was the star of the festival Friday evening. Numerous people in the festival crowd stopped to thank Thompson for his service both to his country and to the township. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II.
“I joined in 1943 and had 18 months overseas in the South Pacific,” he said. “We took four islands. I went through it all.”
After his service in the military, Thompson returned home and served his local community. Thompson was one of the founding members of the Mineral Ridge Fire Department. Tom Lambert, Weathersfield’s current fire chief, said that Thompson was essential in bringing the fire department to the town.
“Lieutenant Thompson, he started on the fire department before the fire department was the fire department,” Lambert said. “He’s one of the guys who helped make us become a fire department. There was no fire department in the township. We now have three stations.”
During a ceremony after the parade, Lambert honored Thompson by naming him an honorary member of the Weathersfield Fire Department.
BEGINNING A FIRE DEPARTMENT
Lambert said that Thompson’s early involvement with the local fire crews was critical as he was one of the leaders in raising money for the units. It was a rag-tag group of local residents, but they came together for the betterment of the community.
“They didn’t have levy money back then. They got together as a group of guys and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something to protect the community.’ They got an old truck from the junk yard, and on their own time after working all day, they would come up and start working on the fire truck. One guy had the ladder, one guy had some rope, one guy was a mechanic, and they started the fire department.”
FLAG DAY FESTIVAL
The Mineral Ridge Fire Department put together various events in its early days to raise money. One of the most popular events that Thompson and the fire department started in the 1950s was the flag festival.
“I was in the original fire department when the festival started,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing. It has really grown from when we had it.”
The fire department continued to host the flag festival every year, and it was a popular fundraising event for decades. David Rouan, Weathersfield Township administrator, said that the festival ceased in the 1990s, but was brought back in recent years, now officially hosted by the township.
“It originally started with the local fire association to do fundraisers,” Rouan said. “That continued up until the early 1990s in different, iterations, then it was suspended for a number of years because it was difficult to get help. Then, about 10 years ago, the township itself took the festival over and re-introduced it. We’ve been doing it ever since.”
At the event, residents were able to enjoy food trucks, games, rides and live music. The main attraction of the festival was the parade, which took place on Friday night.
The township used the parade as an opportunity to honor one of its local residents, Paul Colla, who has been serving the community by picking up trash and litter for years.
“Paul Colla is an amazing resident of our township,” Rouan said. “He’s a very special guy. He goes on daily walks and on those walks, he picks up litter for our community. He’s been doing that for some time. Earlier this year, our board of trustees recognized him for that service and they asked him if he would be the grand marshal for our parade, to which he agreed.”
Colla said he is happy to help his community and he was thrilled to be honored by the township.
“I pick up garbage every day on my walks,” he said.
The festival will be open at the township park 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Rouan believes that the flag festival is an important event every year for Weathersfield. He said that it is a great opportunity for people to get together. Rouan hopes that the festival will continue to be a staple in the township for years to come.
“We’re a very small community,” he said. “Weathersfield is a little fragmented … We have four separate school districts, so it’s hard for our community and citizens to feel like they’re one. This park helps do that.
“Our trustees over the last 10 years have been so successful in getting grant money and developing this park and we’re so fortunate to have it. Our community, after the first year when we brought this festival back, they were so happy with it, and so thrilled to have it back, that I suspect it will continue for years to come.”