The 46th annual Fiesta Days made history last weekend as rain struck the slice-of-Americana celebration — for the first time in about two decades — during a music and fireworks show but skipped the traditional memorial service and parade.
Rains dampened attendees at the barbecue, music and fireworks show on Sunday night at Memorial Park. The last time there was rain during the celebration was around 1998, said Pat Anderson, president and CEO of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Fiesta Days.
The fireworks show took place about 30 minutes earlier than planned, during a break from the rain, and some music performances were held afterward, Anderson said on Tuesday.
“I was wet and I was cold and I was tired and I had a wonderful time,” Anderson said. “I would say we had about a fourth of the attendance [Sunday night] we normally had. Everything was fine except the weather.”
This year’s Fiesta Days began last Friday and continued through Memorial Day on Monday. Events ranged from Casino Night on Friday to the French Toast Breakfast and car show on Saturday and the memorial service and parade on Monday.
LCF Mayor Leonard Pieroni said the rain was a memorable moment for him. He celebrated the evening with his family and friends, including in-laws from Washington state, his mother and stepfather.
“At one point, the rain was falling, water running off the umbrella keeping the table dry, [and] was falling on those sitting around the table,” Pieroni said on Tuesday. “The solution was to hold a personal umbrella over your head while sitting under the table umbrella.”
Nonetheless, there was absolutely no rain the following day when the memorial service and parade took place. Anderson said more people attended the service and the Afternoon in the Park event than in previous years.
“They came earlier and stayed longer,” Anderson said. She believed it was because people wanted to get out of the house after the cold, rainy period.
Pieroni said his favorite part of the weekend was the Monday service to recognize the “meaning and intent of Memorial Day” and show honor and respect.
“It is important for us to remember the million-plus women and men that gave their lives protecting us, and our way of life, which includes celebrating Fiesta Days,” Pieroni said. “The ceremony is a way of ensuring that the men and women, and the price they paid for us, are not forgotten. A big thank you to Dr. Joe [Puglia] and his team for organizing and executing the service.”
Vietnam veteran Puglia, the lead organizer of the service to remember those who have died during military service, said he was impressed by how smoothly the service went.
Puglia said “probably more than 30” veterans spoke at the service and the more than 100 people who attended included many children.
“It’s just a real heartfelt ceremony,” Puglia said on Tuesday. “No one does what we do.”
While Puglia had a hard time settling on just one highlight of the ceremony, he did single out participants. He cited “mistress of ceremonies” Emilie Risha, “Danny Boy” singer Maggie MacKenzie and La Cañada High School choral director and conductor Jeff Brookey in particular.
Jack MacKenzie, who helps organizer Puglia with music and other duties, said on Tuesday the service struck all the right notes with its attention to those who are missing in action or prisoners of war.
“The POW/MIA theme, I think, really made it feel cohesive and kind of consistently emotional,” said MacKenzie, who added he had been to every memorial service for the past 15 years and worked closely with Puglia on music for the last six.
“I’ve never seen so many people crying at the service as this year,” MacKenzie said.
Chamber of Commerce leader Anderson added that the theme and service were “very moving.”
Among the ceremony’s affecting moments occurred when youths read letters that veterans have written when they’re off at war.
“The kids read those letters and they are just heart-wrenching,” MacKenzie said. “And then the soldiers are invited to come up and introduce themselves.”
Puglia also rode in the parade as a winner of the Les Tupper Award for Special Service and said he enjoyed his time perched in a 1965 Ford Mustang.
“I began to see the composite of La Cañada and to think that throughout the nation there are so many little towns, communities and municipalities celebrating the same theme. Little children waving flags, the families … the soldiers died, and died for this. So we can be free and do this and have these children grow up and follow their destiny the way they want to.”
Anderson said there were 81 entries in the parade, somewhat fewer than in other years, while there was a good turnout for the French Toast Breakfast and auto show, which had about 35 classic cars.
Anderson said planning for next year’s Fiesta Days will begin in about a month. The dates scheduled for next year are May 22-25.
“Everyone gathers comments and information from lots of folks as the event progresses and goes on,” Anderson said of the process. “We bring all those comments and analyze it and see what we can do better. We don’t have that yet.”