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After 55 years, alumni group discontinues West Lebanon parade

  • As Nancy Pyer, of West Lebanon, N.H., waves to the crowd, Red Austin, of Bristol, Conn., takes a picture of the "Leapin' Lena" float on Main Street during the annual Alumni Parade in West Lebanon, N.H., on May 24, 2014. The parade celebrates graduates from West Lebanon High School, which closed in 1961. Austin and Pyer graduated in 1949, and driver Donald Langley, of Lebanon, is a 1952 graduate of the school. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 07, 2019

WEST LEBANON — An annual parade celebrating West Lebanon’s neighborhood pride and its long-closed high school will not be held this Memorial Day weekend, according to organizers, who recently announced an end to the 55-year-old tradition.

“It’s not going to happen this year,” Donald Langley, an organizer of the West Lebanon High School alumni association parade and a 1953 graduate of the school, said on Tuesday.

The decision to end the parade comes as alumni of the high school, which closed in 1961, continue to get older.

While participation rates have been good in recent years, Langley said, finding someone who was willing to organize the effort has been a challenge.

“We’ve been trying to get somebody to take it over for years now but nobody wants in, so we finally decided it was time to give up,” he said.

Meanwhile on the other side of the city, the Lebanon High School Alumni Association also has found it difficult to recruit volunteers for its annual parade, which this year is scheduled for June 8. Keeping up with rising insurance costs has also proved challenging.

“Our older alumni are passing away and the young alumni are not stepping up,” said association President Dianne Grant, a 1969 LHS graduate.

Grant said the association has 12 members of its board of directors, the youngest being 55. She can recall a board of 35 in the group’s heyday.

The annual insurance payment for the event is about $2,500, Grant added, which is a significant increase from the $1,000 it cost roughly two decades ago.

The inaugural West Lebanon parade was in 1964, when members of the Class of 1944 proposed the event to celebrate their 20-year reunion, according to Langley.

That was about three years after a vote by city residents closed West Lebanon High School and consolidated it with the new building on Hanover Street.

The vote, which garnered 66 percent approval, deprived West Lebanon of an important institution and evoked years of animosity between the city’s two main neighborhoods, according to the book Lebanon: 1761-1994 by historian Roger Carroll.

The former high school on Seminary Hill now houses Lebanon School District offices and occasionally hosts community events in its auditorium.

Since the 1960s, Lebanon High School has educated children from both sides of the city, which also means there’s no pool of young alumni to volunteer for the West Lebanon parade.

“That makes us all quite old,” Langley said of the alumni association. “We need a younger bunch.”

Led by the American Legion, the parade traditionally started at the Mount Lebanon School and proceeded on a route through Main Street and the base of Seminary Hill.

Alumni celebrated by driving classic cars, while members of the Upper Valley Band, dancers and clowns all entertained the crowd in floats.

“Last year’s (parade) was actually pretty good. There was good participation,” said Mayor Tim McNamara, a West Lebanon native, who remembers seeing plenty of residents attending.

“It was a nice little parade,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that they’ve been running out of graduates for the last few years.”

Former Mayor Georgia Tuttle, who lives in West Lebanon, said the annual event was “an integral part of the quality of the neighborhood.”

She always told new neighbors to get their Saturday chores done early on parade says, so they could partake in the events.

“You get to go out and see your neighbors, sometimes for the first time in the spring,” she said. “I’m really sad and disappointed that it’s not going to happen. It’s always been the highlight of the neighborhood.”

At least one part of the West Lebanon festivities will continue: the alumni association’s annual banquet.

The dinner — which is scheduled for the night of Saturday, May 25 — raises money for scholarships to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of West Lebanon alumni.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.