Maureen Ennis has been a Ronkonkoma resident ever since the community started holding its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. She didn't make it to the inaugural event, but last year marked her 27th straight parade as a spectator, celebrating from the sidelines as the festivities traveled along Portion Road.
Sunday marked the 29th annual parade, and Ennis was there — she wouldn't miss it. Only this time, she led the way as grand marshal.
Ennis, 56, found out she had been selected for the honor while on vacation in Florida with her husband, Sean.
“Jimmy Tallman, who is the parade chairman, had called me up and said he wanted to ask me something,” she recalled. “He told me that my name had been chosen and I didn’t say anything. He asked me if I was there and I said, ‘Yes, but I’m crying.’”
Ennis is active in her community, best known for spearheading the Long Island chapter of The Giving Doll, a nonprofit organization that creates and distributes handmade dolls to children in hospitals and shelters worldwide. Ennis brought the cause to Long Island in 2011 with a “handful of women,” which has now grown into more than 300 members, she says.
Ennis estimates that they’ve crafted and donated nearly 12,500 dolls to date. The Long Island chapter is the only one in New York State.
“We purchase the muslin, which is the type of fabric that we use for the doll, and then we trace them, we paint their faces, we make their hair, we make all their clothing, and everything that we do is washable because children get dolls dirty,” she said.
Ennis said she and her team make 40 to 70 dolls per week, on average. The dolls are then delivered to children in need, including survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, Ennis said.
“The people in the community love what we do,” she said. “I’m very proud of it; I really am.”
Ennis moved from Howard Beach, Queens, to Ronkonkoma in 1990 with her husband, and raised four children here.
“For 28 years we’ve gone to the parade, and we’ve always been involved,” she said.
The Giving Doll had its own float in the parade and followed behind Ennis, who was all smiles while marching with her family. A band played “Annie Laurie” not too far behind as onlookers cheered.
Ennis says the best part of her day was feeling supported by the community of Ronkonkoma: “It’s an amazing honor just to see the people come out and support what you do.”