Branford First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos not only brought his wreath to the Columbus Statue in Wooster Square.
He brought the the whole parade back to Branford.
“And it’s about time,” said DaRos with a smile as he participated along with about 50 officials of Italian-American organizations, other politicians, and sponsors in a traditional wreath-laying ceremony in the run-up to Sunday’s parade.
It unfolded at the sun-dappled base of Wooster Square’s Columbus statue Saturday morning.
For the first time in its century-plus history, the Columbus Day Parade will be held in a town beyond Greater New Haven.
“We got the town all spiffed up, the flower beds picked up, and the streets swept,” DaRos said after St. Michael’s Church’s Father Ralph Colicchio had blessed the 31 wreaths.
Then their bearers processed from St, Michael’s, the Italian-American community of New Haven’s anchor church, down the angular pathway of the park, passed well-wishers, to ceremonies conducted at the base of the statue at Chapel Street.
The parade was scheduled to kick off in Branford at 1:30 p.m. Sunday with approximately 143 units, a record number, according to Bill Zampa, a board member of the Columbus Day Committee.
It’s not a one-off: Branford is joining the rotation along with all the “Havens” and Hamden; they take turns to hosting the parade each year. Next year belongs to North Haven, whose First Selectman Michael Freda did the wreath honors Saturday for his town.
Because Branford has a large Italian-American population, including several people on the board of the parade’s organizing committee, the question has been percolating for at least five years, said Zampa. This year the decision was taken to allow the expansion, in the same manner back in 2003 the committee voted to expand to the suburbs beginning with North Haven hosting that year.
Along with this notable first, the ceremony featured a notable last: the final time the current mayor and son of Italy represented New Haven at the wreath-laying. In his remarks, Mayor John DeStefano praised the committee and called this part of the weekend’s festivities among his favorites.
He said the ceremony by the 118-year-old statue of Cristofor Colombo is a reminder of the “great migration” that occurred here from Italy. Referencing the festivities going on a few blocks away, he added, “Say a prayer for the next president of Yale: the second Jewish president following an Italian president. When this statue was built, that was unimaginable,” he added.
The redoubtable chairwoman of the committee, Theresa Argento (pictured with Co-Chair Richard DiPalma Jr.), thanked everyone for attending. She gave a particular shout-out to DeStefano for his support over the last two decades.
“I’m proud we’re coming to Branford. The streets are swept. The flags are up. We’re ready to go,” he said.
Ron Mortali, who presented a wreath on behalf of the Italian-American Club of Branford, said this year is also the 75th anniversary of his group. That it comes when the parade is making its debut in Branford is a felicitous coincidence, he said.