It was 1993 when the village first started thinking about our centenary year, 1997. How should we celebrate it? When should we celebrate it? A letter from Mayor Quinzi and the village board appointed Mary Conners and I, along with a steering committee, to work out details. And that we did.
We used the local history office as our headquarters. From a quiet, orderly department, we rose to chaos with continuous phone calls, faxes, requests and inquiries. Our steering committee members each had its own responsibilities. They, in turn, chose people who really wanted to serve. The enthusiasm was building. The summer of 1996 brought phone calls asking about our chosen projects and their dates. People were planning their vacations around Centennial Week.
Let me tell you how one of the volunteers took this centennial celebration as a personal commitment: former educator and school administrator Nick Verzella. Nick wrote to Kevin Williams, the weatherman from the Democrat and Chronicle, in February 1996. He asked him what his prediction for good weather would be for the middle of August 1997. In other words, will it rain? The answer? “Generally, August rainfall in our area occurs as brief, sudden downpours. Most times, one can expect it to rain once or twice per week.” And it did, but not enough to spoil the week. We said, “it just can’t rain on our parade.” And that it didn’t.
Most of you remember many of the events that took place in that year. From the spaghetti contest dinner to the RPO concert, Victorian tea at which we honored local citizens ages 90 and older, mystery dinners, ER Red Wings game, “Sing Out,” Albany train ride, and all the other events leading up to the Centennial Week events in Edmund Lyon Park.
Finally, since we have been celebrating the founding of this village, we thanked Walter Parce, Harry Eyer, Edmund Lyon and Kate Gleason, to name just a few, who took great risks in developing these former wheat fields. You brought industry and people together. You cared enough to build schools and churches, roads and parks. You rejoiced with the community when they succeeded and grew in wisdom. You grieved when events like the 1942 fireworks factory explosion killed our villagers who worked there, one of them on her first day of employment.
You, our founders, made footprints in the sand deep and lasting. May our footprints do the same.
Photos of all the events that year (1997) can be seen on our website (erhistory.com).
Jim Burlingame is historian for the town/village of East Rochester.