Sparta celebrates the Fourth of July

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  • Uncle Sam hands out American Flags in front of Coldwell Banker office on the Boardwalk at Lake Mohawk before the 5th annual 4th of July parade hosted by the Sparta Elks on July 4 in Sparta.

  • Three year old Mason Garofano, five year old Lucas Garofano, and six year old Jack Jacinto wait for the start the parade.

  • Singer-songwriter Mary Adams performs from the Elks float.

  • Musicians from the Sparta High School Marching Band.

  • With flags adorning his stroller, 15 month old Ryan Leibrecht smiles as marchers go by.

  • Members of Cub Scouts Pack 295 march.

  • Members from Sparta's Volunteer Fire Department.

While temperatures soared into the 90s, hundreds of people lined the streets to watch the Sparta Elks Lodge #2356 annual Sparta Township Fourth of July Parade. The parade route began at East Shore Trail and ended at the Mohawk Avenue School.

Despite iffy weather predictions, Elks Trustee Anthony Alfonso cheerfully said, “It will never rain on an Elks parade!"

This year’s event began with Walkill Valley Regional High School Senior Courtney Berado singing the National Anthem to start the parade and singer-songwriter Mary Adams took to the stage of the Elks award-winning float to perform along the route.

Uncle Sam handed out American Flags in front of the Coldwell Banker office while resident Dawn Wiernase and her dog Pistoline enjoyed a front row seat from her yard. Mona Fortunato carried on her family tradition of wearing matching patriotic t-shirts with her 14-year-old twins Andrew and Katherine and their friend Libby Cohen.

There were many children along the parade route waving American flags and cheering the marching participants, including Mason and Lucas Garofano, Jack and Lily Jacinto, Jeffrey and Ryan Leibrecht, Courtney and Hunter Lowery, and Ava and Noah Labarre.

The boys from Sussex-Wantage Cub Scout Troop 97 really got the crowd cheering when they passed and David Hoag of Lafayette drove his 1953 Allis Chalmers tractor in the parade along with others from the North Jersey Antique Engine and Machine Club after working all week to finish assembling it himself.

Approval and applause resonated along Mohawk Avenue as military veterans from VFW and American Legion Posts and the Vietnam Veterans of America organization passed.

Among those marching in the parade who have fought for the country was US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Chad Manke, who returned home from tour on June 17 from the United Arab Emirates.

The Fourth of July has always had a unique place in Manke’s heart and he gave a heartfelt thank you to Sparta and surrounding towns and residents, "The response that I received today was humbling beyond belief. When they read me out [announced his name during the parade] I could hear the streets behind me explode with cheers and support. It is very humbling to know that there are still people out there who do support our military. Even if forget my own name, I will never forget this day."

Currently, home is Virginia, but Manke is making plans to move to Sparta. He feels it is a family-oriented place and the 26-year-old plans to start a family here.

Another reason is that he has more than just friends in the area. Sparta resident Andrew Smetana is like a brother to Manke, going through some of the worst things either has ever seen during their service together.

Born and raised in Sparta, Smetana who went to the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen school, served from 2005-2010 as a shipboard firefighter (DC-man) on the USS John F. Kennedy and USS Carl Vinson, where he and Manke served together. Smetana’s father arranged Welcome Home signs.

Smetana knew the overwhelming good feeling it would bring his friend, so he contacted Commander John Durkot from Sparta VFW Post 7248, who is a longtime family friend, and arranged for Manke to lead the parade and get announced as a returning veteran.

Smetana said, "He didn't expect any of this coming home. It was kind of a surprise. He figured, come back home, go back to the farm, back to a quiet life, and fade into the background. It’s nice to know that you are appreciated and thanked."

John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence, wrote in part about how citizens should celebrate the holiday, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” Sparta's celebration echoed that advice.

After the last participants finished the route, people gathered on the front lawn of the Mohawk Avenue School. Parade awards were handed out, as well as, refreshments and free hot dogs following the parade.

The Elks gave a thank you to the community for their participation and help putting the event together and to familiar sponsors including Eastern Propane and the Nicholson family.

As with most events the Elks organize, the parade event proceeds go towards their programs that support special needs children and Veterans Army of Hope, which gives money to wounded warriors and their families of fallen heroes in the area.

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