WESTERLY — With the buzz and excitement growing, the Westerly 350th Anniversary Committee has added events, short films and new memorabilia items to the slate of activities and keepsakes planned for the ongoing, yearlong celebration.
The original Westerly 350th Gala scheduled for May 17 sold out in under an hour, which prompted the committee to schedule a second gala for May 18. The second event, like the first, will take place at the Westerly Armory, which will be “transformed into a sophisticated and elegant space” for the black-tie affair, said Lisa Konicki, Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce president. The Chamber Foundation is serving as administrative lead and fiduciary agent of the yearlong celebration.
Part of why the originally scheduled gala sold out so quickly is because top sponsors received tickets as part of their benefits package and the armory only holds 250 people. The second gala was added, Konicki said, “because we didn’t want to disappoint or have the gala be exclusive or just for companies that can afford to sponsor at that level.” Tickets for the second gala are going quickly. Both galas will be catered by Watch Hill Caterers and will feature beer and wine from Westerly businesses Tapped Apple, Langworthy Farm Winery and Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island. A champagne toast will be sponsored by Ocean House Management Collection. Both events are expected to break even financially, Konicki said.
Another new event, the Westerly Light Parade, is planned for December. Modeled after the East Lyme Light Parade, Konicki said the hopes for the Westerly parade are the same — lots of light-festooned floats. An exact date has not been set.
Christopher Duhamel, who co-chairs the committee, praised the work of his co-chair, Diana Serra.
“I know it says I’m the co-chair, but she’s really the chair. She’s the driving force,” Duhamel said.
The committee recently decided to commission production of three videos. The Westerly Way will “take that phrase and demonstrate it by telling stories of extraordinary acts of kindness and examples of the community rallying together for the benefit of its citizens,” Konicki said. The video short is expected to focus on the #DStrong effort to support 8-year-old Dorian Murray’s wish to become famous. Dorian received wishes of support from around the world, including from various celebrities, before his death from a rare form of pediatric cancer in March 2016. Residents from the town and the region rallied around the little boy and raised funds for a foundation in his name and worked to keep his spirit remembered.
“The Westerly Way” video might also include a focus on the community’s resilience after the floods of 2010 and the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and “how this community showed a tremendous capacity for caring for one another,” Konicki said. Ideas for other topics for the video are being sought and should be sent to email@example.com. The producer of the “Westerly Way” video has not yet been named.
Renowned Westerly videographer Chris Walsh will produce the two other videos. “Living Treasures” will feature interviews of some of the town’s elder statesmen and stateswomen. People such as Hatsy Moore, Patricia Douglas, Betty Jo and Joe Cugini, Lou Trefes, Jim McCormick, Rev. Joshua McClure, Mary Jane DiMaio, Henry Nardone, Dusty Edgecomb, Angie Smith and others will appear. The featured community members are the “people who got us here and contributed so much,” Duhamel said.
Walsh will also shoot an as-yet-untitled video featuring one student from each grade in the town’s schools. Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau has been given responsibility for finding the students with a request that they not be related to committee members or elected officials. The children will talk about what they like about their hometown, their favorite places to go, their thoughts on the future and things they hope will never change.
“The young members of the community will be here in 50 years and maybe they’ll be in charge of the 400th anniversary celebration,” Konicki said.
Rhode Island cartoonist Frank Galasso, whose work has appeared in the Providence Journal, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times, will create an original piece of art focused on landmark locations in the town, such as Christ Church, the Watch Hill Carousel, Westerly Armory, and the Westerly train station. Galasso’s piece will be available for purchase as a puzzle and on posters and towels.
The celebration started on New Year’s Day with a unity bell-ringing event and family party in the downtown area outside of Town Hall. An exhibit on the town’s history opened Feb. 6 at the Hoxie Gallery at Westerly Library and runs through March 28. Meg Barclay,a direct descendant of Tobias Saunders, who was an incorporator of the town, will deliver a program on the town’s early history in the library’s auditorium tonight at 6:30 p.m. A complete schedule of events is available at the Westerly 350th Anniversary Committee’s website at https://www.westerly350.com/. Information can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/Westerly350/.
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. They’re really coming through,” Duhamel said of the committee members.