School spirit shines through cloudy day at Chester Alumni Parade

Evita and Juneau watch the class of 1994’s Jack-in-the-Box float, which won third place in the Best Float competition, as it passes by on Saturday morning. To launch the gallery, click any photo. All photos by Lorien Strange.

By Lorien Strange
©2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

There’s a unicycle?” exclaimed a young boy as other kids practiced gymnastics and ran around the gazebo in front of Chester Town Hall just before Saturday’s annual parade put on by the Chester High School/Green Mountain Union High School Alumni Association.

A family watches the parade from the back lawn of the M&T Bank on Depot Street.

Meanwhile, the small crowd of adults took turns admiring each other’s floats and eyeing the clouds, at times marshmallow white against the summer sky, but then huddling into dark layers, threatening rain. Meanwhile on Main Street, traffic slowed as crowds gathered in anticipation of the four floats, created and manned by the classes of 2024, 1994, 1979 and 1970.

Led by a Humvee, two classic cars, a horse, the Chester-Andover Elementary School Marching Band and the unicyclist, the parade’s route ran about a mile from Elm Street to Main Street. Fire engines from Chester, Proctorsville, Windham and Weston brought up the rear, and Chester Police ensured the safety of the parade at both ends of the line-up.

Coverall-clad clowns from the Mount Sinai Shriners cackled and spun wheelies ahead of the pastel balloons of the class of 1994’s Jack-in-the-box float, which “was meant to be a throwback to our senior photo,” said Laurie Jackson, secretary of the alumni association.

GMUHS exchange students Johanna from Germany, far right, and Oscar from Spain, wrap themselves in their country flags as other students wait for the parade to begin.

Ghosts and werewolves from the class of 1970’s Monster Mash float handed out candy, and an oversized McLatte from the class of 1979’s McDonald’s Happy Meal float sent bubbles through the air and into the hands of eager children watching with their families and friends.

Other classes drove everything from pickup trucks to a horse-drawn wagon. And some classes opted to walk, waving to the crowd as they held up class banners.

“The Alumni Association would like to give special thanks to Pete and Donna Hudkins and their team of horses that pulled the class of 1964’s wagon,” said Jon Clark, former alumni association president. The Hudkins horse-drawn wagons are well-loved by those attending the Winter Carnival  and other events around Chester.

Among the spectators, Ron Patch, the former president of the Chester Historical Society, chuckled over memories of mechanical breakdowns and floats catching on fire. His musings were bittersweet: “It’s more than the alumni association that’s changed,” he said. “It’s the whole town. The Congregational Church closed — now they play cornhole there or something—and the Freemasons, which had been here since the 19th century, left a few years ago, as well.”

The Class of 1971 shares its school pride in the comfort of a truck cab.

Patch and other Chester residents said that local businesses seem to be offering fewer jobs and more young people leave the area after graduation. “There’s nothing for them here, and nothing for them to come back to,” said one alumnus, a sentiment echoed by several others. As a result, they say, younger classes have been less involved in the close-knit alumni association, which the officers said currently has no members from the class of 2024.

This year’s parade was also the first since the Green Mountain Unified School District Board voted to retire the Chieftains mascot name last December (they had previously dropped the mascot imagery in October of 2021).

Current GM students accompany the Class of 1979’s bubbly McDonald’s float.

Back in January, several people on social media suggested creating a Chieftains-themed float for this year’s parade. While that float was never built, the headdress-adorned logo did pop up Saturday on stickers, banners and T-shirts. At times it appeared with the Sentinel, the logo of the old Chester High School, as part of the Alumni Association’s logo. Since the Alumni Association is  unaffiliated with the school, its logo is unaffected by school board decisions.

The rain began just as the final floats pulled through Main Street. As traffic cleared, alumni gathered around tables and in the bar of the American Legion Post 67 for a banquet. Jokes about the relative simplicity of the class of 2024’s float mingled with outrage at the absence of the high school band, which was unable to perform due to last-minute scheduling conflicts. Only one member of this year’s graduating class was at the alumni banquet.

The Grafton Coronet Band plays for the spectators.

As the banquet got under way, GMUHS junior Donnia Blagrove sang  — a cappella — the national anthem. She was followed by former Chester First Baptist preacher Tom Charlton (Class of ’84) leading a prayer. Afterward, Jon Clark (’77) announced that he would be stepping down from his position as president after 11 years in that role. Joining new president Selina Meisenhelder (’08) is Chris Walker (’87) as vice president, Anna Kendall (’98) as treasurer, and Laurie Jackson (’94) as secretary. Clark will be staying on as a director.

The Alumni Association is  seeking new members, especially from younger classes, and hoping to grow its numbers overall. Any alumni interested in joining the association can call Selina Meisenhelder at 802-376-5007.

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  1. Ron Patch says:

    Good question

  2. Laurie O'Connor says:

    I don’t know why there was a “scheduling conflict” for the GMUHS band. The date for the parade is set a whole year in advance. It was very disappointing they weren’t in the parade.