Labor Day Parade Sparks Memories for Norwich Alumni
On September 5, 2005, the town of Northfield held its 31st Labor Day parade. The culmination of a three-day weekend gala that includes road races, a fair, and nightly entertainment, the parade is an opportunity for the people of Northfield to celebrate hometown and Vermont pride. It is also a chance for the Norwich University Corps of Cadets to exhibit some pride of their own.
Initiated thirty years ago by Northfield's Bicentennial Committee, the parade has been held continuously on Labor Day since 1975, and every year, Norwich cadets have actively participated.
Norwich Reunion Gift Officer Giff Slater '79 was a Delta Company Rook in the fall of 1975, and remembers marching in the very first Northfield Labor Day parade.
"We had only been at school a few days," Slater said. "The upperclassmen hadn't even arrived, yet, so only Rooks and cadre marched."
Slater recalls that they didn't rehearse, and that it was the first time the companies had marched together as a unit other than down to mess.
"We put on the uniform, and off we went. Every Norwich rook since 1975 – one thing we all share is that we've marched down Route 12 on Labor Day. It's not like marching around the UP. Everybody is standing and clapping as you go by. There is no comparison."
Slater is only one of several personnel currently working at Norwich who marched in that very first parade. Air Force ROTC instructor Colonel Timothy Van Splunder '77 was D-Company 1st Sergeant that year, and Army ROTC instructor Colonel Scott Knoebel '78 was the Regimental Commander. Steve Looke '76, Norwich Assistant Athletic Director and Swimming and Diving Coach, was a senior at the time and G Company Commander.
Nowadays, Looke still marches in the parade, but has traded in his cadet uniform for a kilt. As a tenor drummer with the Catamount Pipe Band out of Montpelier, Looke marches alongside his son ,Stephen, who started marching last year.
Although Looke only marched that one time as a cadet, he has vivid memories of what it felt like.
"The thing that I remember most is the pride," Looke said. "It wasn't a fun time to be in the military in 1975, but what sticks with me when I think about that parade is that sense of pride. It was a chance to feel good about being a cadet – you got the sense that people appreciated what you were doing. You saw people stand up and take their hats off and salute the flag, which was something you just didn't see very often during that [post-Vietnam] era."
Mike Hourigan '85, Norwich Admissions Ambassador and former rifle team coach, marched as a Rook in 1981, but has quite different memories.
"I don't remember it being much fun," Mike recalls. "My brother [Vincent Hourigan '82] was my Rook 5, and I remember him yelling at us a lot." This year, the longtime Northfield resident experienced the parade from the comfort of a lawn chair, surrounded by family and friends, and appeared to be enjoying himself thoroughly.
Richard Cleveland, Labor Day parade announcer for 25 years, worked for the State Bicentennial Commission from May '75 through September '77, and has witnessed every Labor Day Parade save the first one. One of Cleveland's most enduring memories is of the year the parade route started up along Vine Street and came south down Main Street.
"I was watching the parade from the reviewing stand in front of the Northfield Savings Bank, and I remember looking from the top of North Main Street by the Grey Building – all the way to the opposite crest by the Post Office – and seeing nothing but cadets. That hill-to-hill vista was really impressive."
Whatever the memories, one thing remains as true today as it did three decades ago – on the first Monday of every September, the Corps forms on the Upper Parade Ground, marches down Route 12, and is applauded as it passes by.
"A lot of things have changed over the last 30 years, but the tradition of marching in the Labor Day parade endures," Slater said.