An almost-big local story of 2017 was that the volunteer organizers of the annual autumn Spirit of Beacon Day were stepping down, and would not be appointing a successor. Panic set in among those who heard the fringe rumors, but those who keep an ear to the ground didn't miss a beat. Longtime Beacon resident, building owner and textile designer Gwenno James heard the open call for replacement volunteers voiced by Mayor Randy Casale during a City Council meeting in July 2017, and decided to step in and step up to take on the enormous task of organizing a parade to celebrate the entire city.
Over the years, organizers have for the most part been invisible enigmas, except to their friends and community members who knew who they were. While the succession of the organizers is described clearly in "Celebrating Our Centennial," a book produced by the Beacon Historical Society, the newest members of the Beacon population tended to not know who produced the parade, only that it happened year after year and was the most celebrated time to show off public schools, nonprofit groups, and other initiatives that strengthen the Beacon community by helping neighbors get to know neighbors.
Trivia tip: Gwenno herself penned several pages in the Historical Society's book!
We wrote about the Spirit of Beacon's backstory here, and have interviewed Gwenno below for the latest on what the future holds for the Spirit of Beacon Day.
ALBB: Some have said: “Beacon has changed. It doesn’t need a Spirit of Beacon Day anymore.” What’s your response to that?
Gwenno James: The Spirit of Beacon Day has been a wonderful celebration bringing everyone together across our community for forty years. When the original founders met in 1977 at the Howland Cultural Center, they agreed that “the community should get to know one another better. We should learn to know each other’s likes and dislikes regarding conversations, feelings, entertainment, education and food." I think that this intention/manifesto is as relevant today as ever, and helps us continue to grow together as a community.
ALBB: How did you come to take over the Spirit of Beacon Day Parade?
Gwenno James: First of all, I’d like to say that we are all so grateful to the committee who have been running the Spirit of Beacon Day parade for many years, for their dedication and hard work, including Rose Story, Roy Ciancanelli, Diane Sedore, Tony Lassiter and Bob Outer. They will continue to provide their support and advice going forward, which is great, and will enable us to transition smoothly and pass on the “torch.”
I look forward to leading the new committee with volunteers from all across our community. How the transition came about was: In July, an announcement was made at the City Council meeting that the committee would be stepping down. The Mayor and others encouraged folks from the community to step up and help. I had already been in touch with Rose Story, the committee Chair, earlier in the summer to offer help and to volunteer for the 2017 parade, so when I heard the news, I contacted Rose again and said I would be happy to help with any transition and, as needed, lead going forward.
We then further discussed with Mayor Casale, and he gave his support, alongside the City. An announcement followed at the next City Council meeting. Others also came forward to help and I spoke at the Beacon Chamber and Beacon Arts joint meeting, where members showed their support and volunteered.
During this year's  parade, I “shadowed” Rose and Roy to learn more about how the parade is run on the ground. I also connected in person with the volunteer organizations and school groups.
ALBB: What will the upcoming year look like for you as you prepare?
Gwenno James: There will be a kickoff meeting around March with everyone who has expressed an interest to become involved. We will plan from there and assign volunteer tasks going forward. We will have continued meetings throughout the Spring and Summer and there will be plenty of opportunities for folks to provide input and help.
[Editor's note: As for a website and social media presence for the Spirit of Beacon Day - that is coming, and we will return to this article to update it with the new link.]
ALBB: How can others submit to volunteer?
Gwenno James: We welcome anyone who would like to volunteer and become involved. Folks can get in touch via email: email@example.com
The good news is that many members of the original committee would like to continue helping and advising going forward, so we can build upon the great efforts they have done and have continuity.
ALBB: Will anything different be done for businesses on the day? Traditionally it has been for nonprofits only.
Gwenno James: This is certainly a matter that we will discuss at our next committee meeting. It’s great to get input and we will be connecting with the Main Street businesses to hear their feedback over the coming months.
ALBB: Thank you Gwenno, and good luck! We look forward to experiencing next year's parade!