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Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day parade returned for another successful year on Saturday, March 2.

The Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee organized the annual parade, which is both the first and largest on Long Island. 

It was led by Grand Marshal Marge Connick, who was selected due to her involvement in the community and her care to patients in her 48 years as a nurse. 

The parade began at noon, on the corner of Pulaski Road and Lou Avenue, in front of Celtic Crossing and ending in front of St. Joseph’s RC Church.

The parade route was festooned with green shamrocks, as well as American and Irish flags. In addition, the parade featured nearly 20 bands, of which 14 were bagpipe bands. The Suffolk County Police, Nassau County Police and New York City Police highlighted the parade with their respective bagpipe bands. 

Also included was the Westchester Fire Department band, St. Anthony’s Pipe Band, and two of Long Island’s finest bagpipe bands, Roisin Dubh and the Saffron Pipes. The Kings Park High School Band, the Sunrisers Drum and Bugle Corps, a banjo band, and various Irish bands also marched at the event. Bands from 11 fire districts were in the line-of-march, including Smithtown and Huntington Fire Departments. 

To round out the festive occasion, various civic and businesses attended including: the Kings Park Fire Department, Kings Park Central School District, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of America, and Kings Park Chamber of Commerce. 

The selection of Marge as the Grand Marshal was hailed by many community members. Awards were presented to the best float — the heralded Claddaugh Cup —- best storefront design and best Kings Park School float.

The Parade Committee consists of a relatively small group: Sue Benjes, Peter Biggane, Diana Brown, Jessica Caruso, Gerry and Robert Creighton, Kevin Johnston, Tom Lamb, Kevin Malloy, Melissa McDougall, Terry Roche, Colleen Shivers, Roy Starke, Michael Sullivan and Darryl Weir. 

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Participants in the Kings Park 2022 St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 5. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A former Irish immigrant, who has been calling Kings Park home for decades, is set to lead the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 4.

Michael Lacey will be the 2023 grand marshal of the Kings Park annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Photo from Kings Park parade committee

Born in County Carlow in the southeast region of Ireland in 1934, Michael Lacey has called Kings Park home since he was 21. When he arrived in his new hometown, Lacey found work at the Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital.

According to a press release from the parade committee, Lacey is known in the area “for his compassion, support and inspiration, earning him the title of this year’s honoree.”

Lacey said in a phone interview that when he found out he was this year’s grand marshal, he was excited and happy to hear the news. It’s an event he attends every year.

While living in Ireland, Lacey worked various jobs and traveled throughout his native country as a dance band musician and played the tenor saxophone. The grand marshal said he no longer plays the instrument but still sings. Many may know him from the annual Irish Night at the Kings Park Heritage Museum, where he performs Irish songs for the attendees.

While still in Ireland, he married Kathleen Byrne, and they had their first child before moving to the United States. Lacey immigrated before his wife and child to earn money when finding a job in Ireland was difficult. Lacey said being raised during World War II was hard, during a time when his homeland could not get imports.

“We had a tough time, especially my parents with 10 kids,” he said. “We lived off nature. Everybody sowed their own gardens. When we were kids, everybody took their turn helping our father out in the garden.”

As a kid in Ireland, he said, “We’d go to the movies and see New York and all that and said, ‘Boy, it must be a great place.’ And it is the greatest country in the world.”

When he arrived at Kings Park, he lived on the hospital grounds and worked three jobs. He said he found it to be a friendly place.

“Everybody knew everybody in town,” he said. “If you walked down Main Street, everybody knew who you were.”

When his wife joined him months later, she found a job as a therapy aide at the psychiatric facility. The couple returned to Ireland in 1957 with no intentions of returning to the United States, but after seven weeks in their homeland decided to come back to Kings Park.

Lacey said they returned to Ireland because he was a bit homesick.

“Like they always say, ‘You got to go back and get it out of your system,’” he said. “So, I did go back, and I went back in the same old routine, and I said, ‘I have to go back to the States.’”

The Laceys put down roots in Kings Park and saved money to build a home. Over time Lacey was promoted to laundry manager at the hospital, where he worked for 33 years.

“Mike understands that life is tough at times, but he offered optimism and hope to those whom he encountered”

— Kings Park parade committee

He and his wife helped many of her siblings move to America. The second youngest child in his family, he said his nine brothers and sisters were already settled in Ireland and never moved to the States.

In the parade committee’s press release, the committee members commended Lacey for helping many of his relatives move to America.

“Mike understands that life is tough at times, but he offered optimism and hope to those whom he encountered,” the press release continued. “He was willing so that they could lead a better life, without any thought of receiving anything in return.”

After raising four children in the hamlet and welcoming seven grandchildren into the family, Lacey’s wife passed away in 2021. He remains in the same home they built decades ago. Local family members will be joining Lacey in the parade as he makes his way through the streets of Kings Park.

The parade steps off at noon Saturday, March 4, at the corner of Lou Avenue and Pulaski Road then continues down Main Street onto Church Street. The parade ends down Old Dock Road at William T. Rogers Middle School.

For more information, visit www.kpstpat.com.

The Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade, shown above in 2020. File photo by Rita J. Egan

The Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade will kick off at noon, once again, from Celtic Crossing Tavern on Pulaski Road Saturday, March 5. This year father and daughter Charles and Diane Gardner Howell, longtime hamlet residents, will be leading the parade after waiting more than a year to do so.

Charlie Gardner and his daughter Naval Cmdr. Diane Gardner Howell are the 2022 grand marshals of the Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Photo from Diane Gardner Howell; file photo above by Rita J. Egan

That parade hasn’t been held since 2020 when participants were still able to march, and residents enjoyed the event a few days before mandatory state shutdowns due to COVID-19. The parade was canceled last year to comply with pandemic protocols.

The committee was optimistic for 2021 and named Gardner, former Suffolk County commissioner of consumer affairs, and his daughter, U.S. Naval Cmdr. Gardner Howell, as grand marshals of the 2021 parade based on their contributions both in the community and the United States. When the event was canceled, the father and daughter retained the titles for 2022. 

“The parade committee is proud of the Gardner family, longtime residents of Kings Park, for its service to Kings Park and the military,” the committee said in a press release.

Gardner said the family found out about being grand marshals a few months after his daughter returned from her deployment in southern Afghanistan. He said he and his wife were thrilled that their daughter was named grand marshal, and then he found out that he would share the spotlight with her.

“I’m very humbled,” he said. “For us,
it’s just a great honor celebrating my family’s heritage.”

He added he has walked in the parade several times as a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He said Irish pride is strong in the hamlet, dating back to when the Kings Park Psychiatric Center hospital
was operating.

“I think it’s a great deal for Kings Park, because there are so many Irish families, there’s a strong Irish heritage in Kings Park,” Gardner said. “That goes back to the hospital days. There were very many Irish people who emigrated and then got jobs at the hospital, and more and more of their family members came over. So, there was a large contingent of Irish.”

Gardner knows about the importance of the hospital and its ties to Irish history in Kings Park. His paternal grandmother came from the Buffalo area with her family to work at the hospital around the late 1920s-early ’30s, and she remained working there until her retirement. Gardner met his wife, who is also named Diane, due to the hospital when she studied nursing with his sister at Kings Park State Hospital School of Nursing. 

Gardner is among the third generation of his family to live in Kings Park on his mother’s side, who was from the Baker family. The Bakers have been part of the community for decades. His grandfather was a police officer in Smithtown, while his grandmother raised 11 children. He added the Bakers once had a taxi stand on Main Street in Kings Park, a restaurant near Sunken Meadow, and he had many uncles who were school bus drivers and involved in the fire department, including one who was fire chief.

Gardner worked for Suffolk County for 40 years before retiring in 2008 after 12 years as commissioner of consumer affairs and has been a member of the Kings Park board of education and chamber of commerce. He also is a past chamber president.

He said he and his wife are proud of their daughter, who is currently assistant chief nurse anesthetist at Stony Brook University Hospital. Gardner Howell has been in the Navy for more than 20 years and earned a bronze star due to her participation in active combat. She is currently in the Navy Reserve. In addition to being this year’s Kings Park parade joint grand marshal, she was recently nominated as Humanitarian of the Year by Kings Park Chamber of Commerce.

Gardner Howell said when she decided to return to Kings Park to live, she was happy to return home to a hamlet she said embraces family.

“Even with me being away all those years for military service and school service, coming back to Kings Park really did feel like coming back home,” she said. “So for the [parade] committee to honor me along with my dad just shows you what a great family town it is. It’s very sweet of them to do this to recognize me along with my dad.”

Gardner Howell added in the past the committee has recognized more than one person from a family, including her cousins the Nally family in 2019.

“The parade committee has a way of bringing the whole town together,” she said. “They may recognize a family or a person but really we celebrate everybody.”

The 2022 Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade will feature 20 bands, including 14 bagpipe bands, police officers from Suffolk, Nassau and New York City, local fire departments, various civic associations and businesses. The parade will travel down Main Street and ends at St. Joseph’s R.C. Church on Church Street. 

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A little snow didn’t stop Kings Park residents and friends from enjoying the 2019 Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 2. Spectators, mostly huddled at the corners of Pulaski Road and Main Street as well as Church Street and Main, cheered on pipe bands, firefighters, businesses and more despite slushy streets and sidewalks.

This year’s grand marshals were the Nally Boys, Gene, Tom and John. The Nally family has lived in the community for nearly 120 years, spanning six generations.