Saturday’s forecast calls for flooding: A river of green is expected to flow right down Chestnut Street, from Diamond Park to the Downtown Mall.
And at the head of this green stream will be a woman who knows a thing or two about waterways: Brenda Costa, who will serve as the grand marshal of the 2023 Jack Curtin St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration. As executive director of French Creek Valley Conservancy, Costa led the effort to secure French Creek’s spot as Pennsylvania River of the Year in 2022 and helped spotlight the waterway’s biological and recreational importance.
“She’s the perfect example of why we choose community members to be grand marshal,” said parade organizer Eileen Mullen. “Typically it’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Her dedication to raising awareness and educating the community — that’s the kind of enthusiasm and love of community that we wanted to shine a light on.”
This will be her first experience as grand marshal, but Costa said the parade has become a family tradition — followed by a trip out for holiday-appropriate Reuben sandwiches. And what she lacks in actual Hibernian ancestry, she makes up for with lived experience.
“My only Irish credentials,” she joked in an email, “are that I’ve been to Ireland for a beautiful vacation.”
More importantly, Mullen told Costa that as the leader of the conservancy she shares certain qualities with Jack Curtin, the late downtown businessman (and Mullen’s father) who was unabashed about his motivation for starting the parade in 1988: it’s a fun way to get pedestrians downtown during a time of year when businesses could use some foot traffic.
“(Eileen) said I reminded her of her dad — someone who came to Meadville and wants to be involved in the community, making positive impacts through collaboration,” Costa said. “I’m incredibly honored to be asked.”
While Costa upholds the solemn duties of the grand marshal, others will be parading around in kilts.
The wearing of the tartan-patterned knee-length garment most commonly associated with Scotland has become a St. Patrick’s Day tradition among some parade participants. The kilt-clad fun begins today when a group of local elected officials, public servants and others will march from Diamond Park to Mannino Italian Garden, located on the parade route, for what Crawford County Commissioner Christopher Soff referred to as “the kilt lunch.”
The gaggle of kilt wearers has grown since Soff began making the march as mayor of Meadville, before being elected commissioner in 2015. But as he approaches his final St. Patrick’s Day in office — Soff is not seeking reelection this year — he said his devotion to the spirit of the parade was never motivated by politics.
“I alway did it to support the parade and the tradition. I believed in what Jack Curtin was trying to do with getting people interested in shopping in downtown Meadville,” Soff said. “It’s a worthwhile and fun tradition. Hopefully it makes Jack Curtin smile.”
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