Tuesday, May 31, 2011
By James Lomuscio
William Vornkahl, president of the Westport Veterans Council, found himself in the odd position today of having to defend his decision to cancel Monday’s Memorial Day parade due to a severe weather that included a lightning strike.
Bill Vornkahl observes a moment of silence at Monday’s ceremony. Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com
Vornkahl, who has been dubbed Mr. Parade for his 41-year tenure running the event, spoke following several postings on WestportNow that criticized his call to cancel the parade at 8 a.m., an hour before it would have started.
“I’ve been working on this parade for close to a year, and the last thing I wanted to do is cancel it,” he said.
He noted that early morning heavy rains and lightning—including a strike that transformed a white pine “into wood chips” on Imperial Avenue across the river from the parade starting point—influenced his decision.
It was a call made in concert with Stuart McCarthy, director of the Parks and Recreation Department. Wilton also canceled its parade because of the weather.
“Safety overrides everything,” said McCarthy. “We had weather reports that predicted thunderstorms into the nine o’clock hour. And it was raining until 9:30.”
As to suggestions that the parade could have been postponed, McCarthy said: “You can’t just snap your fingers and say, ‘Let’s have a parade.’ There are logistics involved. And again, it’s safety, safety, safety.”
Vornkahl said that postponing was not an option since many of the bands in the 71-unit lineup that were preparing to assemble along Riverside Avenue “had to get to other parades.
“And there was no true weather forecast saying that in a half hour or an hour that it was going to end,” he said.
“And for people who don’t know, about a football field away from where I was standing on Riverside Avenue there was a lightning strike.
“It hit a tree and split the tree, and woodchips were flying all over the place. We definitely did not want anybody out in that. I didn’t want anybody getting hurt.”
The lightning strike occurred about 7:30 a.m. at the corner of Westport’s Imperial Avenue and Ridge Drive.
“It was canceled one hour before it was supposed to start, and at that point it was still thunder, lightning and raining pretty hard,” Vornkahl said.
He noted that the lighting would put band members carrying metal instruments at risk, “and you have color guards with metal poles.”
Vornkahl stressed that it was better to be cautious.
Posted 05/31/11 at 07:36 PM Permalink
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Our Parade Master, Bill Vornkahl, truly had to cancel the parade. Even so the Town Hall ceremonies were magical & so patriotic. An amazing job to all participated-we just couldn’t stop clapping! Thank you Tracy Sugarman & all those that served our country. God Bless America. Betty Lou Cummings
I understand the need to cancel due to safety concerns, we stood inside the Saugatuck Church while lightning strikes hit nearby.
I was happy to see the large attendance at the Town Hall ceremony, embracing the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Is it possible in the future, weather permitting: to conduct a postponed parade,allowing the local groups to participate, if they wish along the same route?
I am disappointed at the reports of criticism of Bill’s management of this year’s parade. He’s been doing a great job for over 40 years.
It is sad when critics make news. It’s easy to criticize, hard to manage. Let the critics take responsibility instead of just tossing words around.