Organizers are able to keep the Canandaigua hamlet's Memorial Day tradition alive despite the pandemic

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CANANDAIGUA — No matter the weather — sun, rain, whatever — Therese Johnston and family come out for Cheshire’s Memorial Day parade to celebrate the country’s veterans and those who have come before them.

So, no way COVID-19 was going to stop her.

“We’ve always walked the parade,” said Johnston, who has lived in the Canandaigua hamlet for 52 years. “It’s something we do every year as a family and a community.”

Cheshire and other fire departments participated in the scaled-back holiday event Saturday morning, proceeding from the firehouse to Pine Bank Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony.

A few people sat outside to watch as the vehicle procession, led by a bagpiper, worked its way down Cheshire’s American flag-lined main drag, Route 21 South.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier in the week eased up on pandemic restrictions to allow for small Memorial Day ceremonies of up to 10 people in observance of Memorial Day. Vehicle parades also were allowed as part of that.

Still, the Cheshire tradition — which dates back decades and often included guest speakers and picnics in addition to a marching parade — almost ended because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to state Sen. Pam Helming, who is a former Canandaigua town supervisor.

Helming said she is thankful and proud that the Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department, as well as members of the Cheshire Community Action Team — a volunteer group serving the community and leading an effort to restore the hamlet’s historic Cheshire Theatre and Meeting Hall — were able to organize the event last minute.

“We couldn’t let Covid defeat us,” Helming said. “The one thing about Cheshire, so many young people come out. I think it’s important for them to understand what’s behind this tradition and what it means to the community and to the families who lost a loved one who was serving in the military.”

Cheshire Fire Chief Jim Russell said after Helming contacted the department about continuing the tradition, work began to ensure that social distancing laws were obeyed and that people wore face masks and coverings.

“We felt it was important to carry on this tradition and honor the fallen soldiers of this area,” Russell said.

George Herren, a Canandaigua resident who took part in the procession, said this is an appropriate way to mark the holiday as well as the memory of his oldest son, who would have celebrated his 54th birthday on this day.

“We always remember him as part of the family, especially on this Memorial Day event,” Herren said. “We’re always thankful for that.”