WESTERLY — A local power couple with deep community roots will be riding high next month — atop a firetruck. A 1951 red Seagraves fire engine to be exact.
Westerly natives Betty-Jo Cugini Greene and Stephen M. Greene, volunteer legends whose family stories are inextricably woven throughout generations of Westerly history, have been named grand marshals of the 2018 Westerly-Pawcatuck Columbus Day Parade.
“Everyone is thrilled with the choice,” said Joseph H. Potter, president of the parade’s permanent committee. “They have done so much for the community … professionally and with their community service. They were the unanimous choice of the committee and we’re all very excited.”
Cugini Greene, a journalist and broadcast news veteran who made history when she was named the first female news director of the local NBC news affiliate, serves on the board of trustees of a number of national, state and local instiutions, including the Babcock-Smith House, Westerly Library & Wilcox Park, and the Watch Hill Lighthouse Keepers.
Greene has served as board chair of the Westerly Hospital, and has volunteered on the boards of the Westerly Library, Ocean Community YMCA, Wheeler Library, Westerly Land Trust, Babcock-Smith House, Westerly Hospital Foundation, Stand up for Animals, and Watch Hill Yacht Club. He is also the treasurer of the The Westerly Fire District.
“We’re certainly honored but don’t feel deserving,” said Cugini Greene, a professor at Emerson College and supervisor of new media at the University of Rhode Island. “We just feel so lucky to live here and to be part of this community.”
“It’s all about community — family, faith and friends,” added Cugini Greene, an Emmy Award and Edward R. Murrow Award winner. “The parade is a wonderful family tradition.”
“We are honored, and humbled, to be in the company of the previous grand marshals,” said Greene, a longtime CPA and principal in Pucci, Greene & Fusaro LLC on Airport Road. “And for Joe Potter, of all people, to ask us.”
Past marshals include Cugini Greene’s parents, Joe and Betty Cugini; Rhode Island radio legends George Grand and the late Salty Brine; TV personalities Frank Coletta and Chef Frank Terranova, and performer Billy Gilman.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Greenes stood on the promenade in Wilcox Park, facing the library, explaining their long history with the town institutions they serve.
“We’ve had amazing role models,” said Greene. “Look at Harriet Wilcox … she inherited this land and turned it into a park for the people of Westerly and Pawcatuck. What an example.”
Greene’s grandfather, Ed Greene, was a longtime volunteer for the Westerly Fire Department who lived at the Union Street station house from 1939-1972. Cugini Greene’s grandfather, G. Byron Champlin, Sr., founded the Ashaway Volunteer Fire Association.
To ride upon a firetruck as the grand marshals in the 2018 Westerly-Pawcatuck Columbus Day Parade will be a great tribute to their foremothers and fathers, they both agreed.
“Our connections to the greater Westerly-Pawcatuck community go back generations,” said Greene. “I hope 100 years from now it will be the same, just as it was 100 years before today.”
“There is something so wonderful about watching the fire departments and the police departments and the teams from local high schools all marching together during the parade — especially Westerly and Stonington with that great rivalry,” said Cugini Greene. “That’s what this is all about.”
“It was a no-brainer for sure,” Parade Chairwoman Beth K. Frenette said in an email this week about the decision to ask the Greenes to be the grand marshals. “We are very excited to have them both.”
This year’s parade is scheduled to take place on Sunday, Oct. 8, with a rain date of Monday, Oct. 9.
Both graduates of Westerly High School, the couple have five children between them. Cugini has two children, Christopher and Katharine Koretski, and Greene has three, Hillary Greene Nolan, Rachel Greene Banks and Matthew Greene.
Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, who was the parade grand marshal in 2005, called the choice of this year’s grand marshals a perfect one.
“They could not have picked two more fitting people,” said Algiere. “They do so much for the community … and for the state.”
“Their hearts are here,” he added. “Here, in Westerly.”