As students from the School of Rock performed on the main stage last Saturday, hundreds of residents buzzed about East Rockaway’s Memorial Park, taking in the 50th annual Huckleberry Frolic. Some sang along with the band, while others browsed the dozens of tables set up by vendors or enjoyed the many games and rides on a sun-soaked afternoon.
Sporting a tie-dyed 50th anniversary T-shirt, a commemorative pin and an orange bandana wrapped around her wrist as an homage to the first Frolic in 1969, Charlene Fried put in perspective what the golden anniversary of the storied event meant to East Rockaway residents.
“It’s monumental,” said Fried, the chairwoman of the Grist Mill Museum Committee, which organizes the event. “I think it’s awesome because I think it’s a tribute to my committee, and it fuels them to want to do more hard work, and they’re proud to be part of it.”
There were signs of the 1960s all over Memorial Park. Wood flowers and peace signs lined the fences, while old-fashioned buses were parked in the fields, offering attendees several photo opportunities, as did a hippie-themed photo booth, where Frolickers could em-brace the zaniness of the ’60s. Near the entrance to the park, several young children took in the petting zoo, which included goats, chickens and a large turtle that slowly roamed the fenced-in area.
In addition to about 700 residents, many elected officials attended the event, including Mayor Bruno Romano, who praised the hard work of the organizing committee.
“It’s wonderful,” Romano said. “I’ve been living in East Rockaway for 53 years, and I remember coming here when I was a child. To see it now, and just the amount of growth that this particular event morphed into, I’m very proud to see it, and we want to continue growing every year.”
Fried said that the event brought the community together, including local businesses that helped sponsor it and families in the village who came to support the Grist Mill Museum. The committee attracted 68 sponsors for the Frolic, many of whom set up tables and donated various items.
Planning for the 50th Frolic took more than a year, according to Fried, who is married to village Trustee Steve Fried. The committee collected $13,600 in donations from families and businesses, and the event cost $10,600 to organize, she said. Businesses that donated were listed on signs on the fencing along Woods Avenue.
“Anything we make today is going to the Grist Mill,” Fried said, “because basically everything is already paid for by the sponsors.”
The Grist Mill was built in 1688, and Joseph Haviland was its first owner, before Alexander Davidson purchased it in 1818. According to the Historical Society of East Rockaway and Lynbrook, Haviland built the mill to help create a shipping and trading center. The Village of East Rockaway acquired the mill in 1960, and soon afterward it was restored and moved from Mill River to its current location in Memorial Park, at Woods and Atlantic avenues. Eventually it became a museum. The site was destroyed by an arsonist in 1990, but was fully restored. Work to further rehabilitate the facility began in mid-2018, and funds from the Frolic will help continue that effort. The rehabilitation project includes the installation of a new roof, and new fire alarm and security systems. Exterior repairs are also in the works.
This year’s Frolic began with a parade, which was followed by the opening ceremony. The Boy Scout Troop 121 color guard displayed flags, and Glor Na nGael Pipe and Drums and singer Stefanie Bradley performed the national anthem. The Rev. Mark Lukens, of Bethany Congregational Church, gave the benediction. The ceremony included the dedication of a birdbath in memory of the late John “Harry” Conklin, who was a member of the Grist Mill Museum Committee for 40 years and died in January. The Lioy and Esposito families were also honored for donating to the museum.
Permission to Launch opened the festivities with an outdoor concert Friday night, and the Lamar Peters Rock-N-Roll Review played for three hours to end the event on Saturday.
There were several food trucks, rides, booths and games. Phyllis Boland, of East Rockaway, owner of Intuitive Impressions Jewelry, sold bracelets with her daughter, Ashley, at one table. “I’m thrilled to be a part of the 50th Huckleberry Frolic,” Phyllis said. “I’ve never missed it. It’s a great event.”
Marie Mastrantuono said she enjoyed watching the animals roam the petting zoo. “The kids have a great time,” she said. “It’s nice to see the community come together.”
She also commented on the many food choices. “I’m cheating because of the food,” Mastrantuono said with a laugh, “so there goes my diet.”