UTICA — With a gigantic smile on her face, Judy Weeks raised the shillelagh high over her head Monday to applause from those gathered at the Stanley Center for the Arts.
Weeks has been involved with the Great American Irish Festival for the last 14 years, including five as director. On Tuesday night, after receiving the shillelagh from last year’s grand marshal Vaughn Lang during the Grand Marshal Reception, she officially became the grand marshal for Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Utica.
“It’s a great honor,” said Weeks, who has family in Ireland. “It means a lot to me. It’s very emotional for me.”
Weeks, who is rehabbing from a stroke she had in May, will ride in a limo at the head of Saturday’s parade. The parade — thought to be one of the oldest in the state — will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday morning along Genesee Street.
New this year is a 1-mile race along the parade route prior to the parade. The race is sponsored by The Sneaker Store in New Hartford.
Lang said being last year’s grand marshal was a great honor.
“I appreciated the honor,” he said. “I’m happy to pass this along to Judy Weeks, who’s been supportive of the Irish community since she was born.”
Several past grand marshals attended the passing of the shillelagh, and all praised Weeks and sang her virtues.
Prior to the ceremony Tuesday night, 2005 grand marshal Dan Murphy provided a historical insight into this year’s parade. He said it is the 25th anniversary of the Dolly Parton Parade.
Murphy recalled that Dolly Parton had played the Stanley the night prior to the 1993 parade and had found herself stuck in the city because of a blizzard that dumped about 16 inches of snow in the area.
Parton was forced to stay the night in a hotel and saw the parade from her window the following day as it went on despite the snow, Murphy said. He further stated that Parton told the story during an interview on the David Letterman show a few weeks later.
“That captured the imagination of the Irish community,” Murphy said.
Contact reporter Ed Harris at 315-792-5063 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_EHarris).