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For the town of Hampden, it’s not summer without the annual Children’s Day. What started off as a night for families to gather, has turned into a packed, full-day event now celebrating its 40th year this Saturday.
Started by the Hampden Public Safety Employee Association — made up of career firefighters and police for the town — Hampden Children’s Night, started in 1978, was a smaller event with games, food vendors, fireworks and a skydiver. In 1981, the association joined forces with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Kiwanis to make it the day-long event we see today, now held on the second Saturday in August.
The emphasis on the event was to plan an old-fashioned day for the kids, put on by local groups instead of outside professional organizations.
“It was always advertised as ‘pack a picnic lunch and have a ball,’” said Frank Coombs, longtime Hampden resident and past planning committee and parade chair. “It’s downsized a bit, but is still a great event.”
All the local businesses and towns contributed to the event, with the Anah Temple Shrine providing parade units and transport service H.O. Bouchard providing flatbeds for the annual parade, which was started after it became a day long event.
Another highlight of the event are the fireworks which were originally put on by police and firefighter personnel Russ Ritchie, Ed Murphy and Robert Bailey, Coombs said. The three became licensed pyrotechnicians and shot them off themselves before Blue Hill Pyrotechnics took over the operation. After the sale of the company, a contracted vendor now selects the shells.
Besides event staples such as the parade and fireworks, this weekend’s events, which surround the theme, “Celebrate Hampden,” will include a fun run, petting zoo, mini-monster truck show, dance performances from Top Hat II Dance Studio, Morgan Hill’s Star Dance Team and Morita’s School of Dance, and music by Souled Out.
“It’s a good variety of events for active and passive participation for young and old children, and children at heart,” said Shelley Abbott, director of the Hampden Recreation Department and this year’s parade chair.
One of the organizations that will be present this weekend will be the Hampden Historical Society who will have a float in the parade and a booth to mark the 225th anniversary of the town’s incorporation, which was in February.
The float will resemble the 1800s store Barrows General Merchandise, located on outer Western Avenue, complete with an old grocery wagon. The booth will include old photos, penny candy, giveaways and games that will highlight Hampden’s 225 year history.
Abbott said the fireworks were expected to be expanded this year to mark the commemoration as well.
But the popular event did not always go smoothly. The event was canceled in 2001 and almost canceled in 2015 due to a lack of volunteers. Abbott said 19 volunteers served on the Children’s Day planning committee with 20 expected for this weekend’s festivities.
As an annual celebration, the event turned into a homecoming weekend for Hampden residents with class reunions and family gatherings planned where all the kids who grew up with Hampden Children’s Day could “come home,” Coombs said.
“It’s just been a wonderful day that the town is extremely proud of,” Coombs said. “The amount of volunteers and families that get involved, you can’t put a paycheck on that. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces makes it all worth it.”
The Hampden Children’s Day Committee is looking for volunteers to help during the event. Learn more by visiting the Hampden Children’s Day Facebook page.