The Harkins family hosts relatives and friends to watch the parade on May Street/ Credit: Courtesy Harkins family

Each July Fourth, families line up along the town’s parade route — often returning to their special spot year after year — to watch marching bands, floats, championship sports teams, proud veterans and reenactment groups that fire muskets. The parade is the perfect followup to Needham’s fireworks the night before, and perhaps an antidote to today’s complex times. 

Some of the lucky folks who live along the parade route have maintained a tradition of hosting viewing parties. Matthew Smith and his family bought their house at Webster and High streets about 12 years ago from people who always hosted neighbors for a gathering. “We thought it was only right to continue the tradition,” he said. Their house is known not only for its potluck breakfast that includes donut holes, a casserole and plenty of coffee, but also for the inflated unicorn that has greeted neighbors since COVID. “During the pandemic, we thought it would be nice to put some decorations up to encourage joy and have a destination for people.” The Smiths live on a part of the parade route designated as a quiet zone, where the gunfire is prohibited and the fire engines silence their horns. The Smiths said they see more of their neighbors that day and have become closer friends with some as a result.

The extended Terrazino family watches the parade in front of the Heights Post Office every year./ Credit: Courtesy Terrazino family

Barbara Terrazino, whose house is not on the parade route, sets up a party with her kids and grandkids in front of the Heights post office each year. Her daughter, Cindy Terrazino DeFillipo of Nashua, New Hampshire, said the group of 15 finds any excuse for a family gathering. “We all grew up in Needham. My grandpa even went to Needham High School. It’s part of the fabric of our lives, and I still think of Needham as my home.” Cindy said she’ll never forget the one year she missed the parade. 

Jo-Anne and Kurt Ochalla live near the high school on Webster Street. They were out pruning bushes this past Sunday in preparation for their parade party. “We’ve been hosting a breakfast here since we moved into this house seven years ago,” said Jo-Anne. “Before that, we lived on Lindbergh and did the same, but now we have a front row seat.” The past couple of years they proudly have hosted the coach and members of their son’s state champion NHS volleyball team.

This year, the Ochallas are expanding their party since another family, the Dirks, who live across the street and always hosted a big barbeque each year, are moving away. The Dirks were known for their pie-eating contests, and while the Ochallas won’t be picking up that tradition, they will be inviting people who attended that party. “We have a lot of people who just come by,” said Jo-Anne. “I also have friends who come from West Roxbury with their little kids, and my dad usually comes up from Connecticut.” Her father played trumpet in a marching band when she was a kid, so the bands in the parade bring back fond memories. For Kurt, who spent 26 years in the Army reserve, it’s a special moment when the veterans march past. 

The mother of all parade parties, however, may just be the one hosted by Tom and Barbara Harkins on May Street for the past 40 years. They get as many as 40 people who feast on the nostalgia of the parade along with coffee cake, donuts, juice, fruit, cookies and muffins. “Many people bring stuff, and we even have popsicles for the kids if it’s hot,” said Barbara. She and her husband have a long history of serving the town. Tom has been actively involved in the Exchange Club, which sponsors the Fourth of July festivities. The parade brings friends and family together, and as Barbara said, “I see people I haven’t seen all year … I see their grandkids.” 

Whether it’s the nostalgia of the Fourth of July parade itself or the opportunity it provides to reconnect with friends and neighbors, gatherings along the route provide a sense of community that distinguish the town of Needham.

View a full schedule of the Fourth of July events at the Exchange Club of Needham website

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