By LAUREN PEACOCK
For Montclair Local
This story has been updated to reflect plans for the “Caravan for Heroes” parade, announced after its initial posting.
There won’t be a Fourth of July picnic or parade in Montclair this year, but the township is still marking the occasion.
The Montclair Celebrates Committee is hosting a “Caravan for Heroes” on July 3 to honor front-line workers — and to celebrate the grand marshal originally expected to be honored during 2020’s July 4 festivities.
Activities in nearby towns and at county parks will also give Montclair residents ways to celebrate Independence Day.
The parade and Edgemont Park picnic were canceled in 2020 for the first time in more than a century. Organizers called off the events again this year, citing state COVID-19 guidelines. Though there are no current limits on the size of outdoor gatherings, restrictions shifted several times, and some remained in place until earlier this month. Organizers said they weren’t able to plan with any certainty over the past half-year.
At the caravan, organizers will honor Dan Gill, who’d been slated to be last year’s grand marshal. Gill has been a teacher at Glenfield Middle School for more than 50 years.
In a video interview with Montclair Celebrates committee Vice President Tim Barr last year, Gill reflected on his lengthy career, the difficulties of remote learning, and what it means to make a connection with a student.
“As Maya Angelou said, people won’t remember you for what you did, but they’ll remember you for how you made them feel,” he said. “And that’s what every teacher should keep in mind. Although you think you’re teaching, you know, this wonderful lesson, say on the Revolutionary War, they’ll come back and say, ‘I remember the day you bent over and you split your pants.’ And, here’s the thing: And you laughed at yourself. And that taught them that — that’s OK. That’s what you do. You laugh at yourself.”
Barr said in the interview Gill had a “fan base” that spanned decades.
Another way to celebrate July 4 will be Essex County’s SummerMusic series of live, free concerts at county parks, beginning June 30. The SummerMusic series will last for 11 weeks and features 22 events.
The concert by Smooth on June 30 at Weequahic Park in Newark and another by The Infernos at Brookdale Park in Bloomfield and Montclair on July 1 will include fireworks. There will also be fireworks at an Aug. 26 performance by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at Branch Brook Park in Newark. Each of the events begins at 7:30 p.m.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said residents should “pack a blanket, enjoy the cool evening breeze, and dance to the sounds of classical, rock and roll, jazz, big band, Latin and more.” Anthony Puglisi, the county’s spokesperson, expects the fireworks shows to draw crowds numbering in the thousands. Puglisi also said there will be vendors selling refreshments. New Jersey recently lifted all outdoor guidelines and restrictions on gatherings.
Some neighboring towns will have Independence Day celebrations as well. Verona is planning fireworks at the Verona Community Center, 880 Bloomfield Ave., on June 30. West Orange will hold an Independence Day celebration July 4 at West Orange High School, with a food truck festival from 1 to 9 p.m. and fireworks at dusk.