After more than 60 years of parading on the Fourth of July, Wantagh has seemingly perfected the art of small-town patriotism.
Lawn chairs filled with flag-toting residents lined Wantagh Avenue Wednesday morning; marching bands, fire engines, civic groups and veterans marched down the sun-drenched street, and at the end of it all, a new Miss Wantagh was crowned.
“It’s a very broad-based parade, not just Wantagh folks, but surrounding communities,” said Fred Parola, who helped organize the parade. “It’s a positive day totally; you’re celebrating independence and you’re celebrating your community.”
Parola, a former state assemblyman and county comptroller, is a member of the Wantagh Fourth of July Association, which has been organizing the parade each year dating back to the 1950s. He is a lifelong resident of Wantagh.
“It is one our most important observances,” Parola said. “We are celebrating the Declaration of Independence, and sometimes we take it for granted, but the words in the document are awe-inspiring.”
The parade route stretched slightly more than a mile, heading north on Wantagh Avenue starting at Park Avenue, before turning east onto Island Road and back south on Beech Street.
Cloudy skies and light rain gave way to sunshine shortly before the parade was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
The parade lasted for about an hour. It was immediately followed by an awards ceremony at Wantagh Elementary on Beech Street, where certificates were distributed in categories such as “Best Marching Band,” “Most Creative Float,” and “Most Patriotic.”
The awards ceremony concluded with the crowning of Miss Wantagh, a tradition that dates back to 1956. The contest is open to Wantagh High School sophomores and juniors, and the winner should have “a desire to better her community and be a voice of her peers,” according the official contest criteria.
Hailey Orgass took home the tiara this year. Orgass responded to the honor by praising her eight co-finalists.
“I think we all did amazing,” she said. “I think we all deserve the title.”
Orgass and the runners-up earned cash prizes and gift certificates contributed by local businesses.
Alyssa Kelly, Paulina Renda and Alyson Hopkins were the first, second and third runners-up, respectively, and several of the other contestants took home awards such as “Miss Congeniality” and “Most Elegant.”
The festivities concluded around noon when Kara Arena, Miss Wantagh 2011, led the enthusiastic crowd in singing “God Bless America.”
Above: Hailey Orgass is crowned Miss Wantagh by Kara Arena, left, who was Miss Wantagh 2011, and Nassau County Clerk Maureen O'Connell, right. The ceremony took place at Wantagh Elementary School on Beech Street. (July 4, 2012)