By Jim Sullivan
---- — Needham native Tammy Jennings, 45, always had a love for the Newburyport Yankee Homecoming parade.
“It was the best parade in the world,” Jennings said. “Because to me, being from Needham, we always had a Fourth of July parade, but the one in Newburyport always seemed to be never-ending.”
Luckily for Jennings, her father’s job at Rochester Electronics relocated their family to Newburyport the day after she graduated from Needham High School in 1985.
“My mom had an aunt and uncle that used to live up here in Newburyport,” Jennings said. “So I always went to Yankee Homecoming as a little girl. That’s how I was kind of introduced to it.”
Her love for Homecoming continued for the next 28 years as she got involved as much as she could.
“I have a child, and it was always one of the best things we did together,” Jennings said. “We always did the fashion shows, the Teddy Bear parades, and I have been an event chairman in the past.”
This year will be a little different for Jennings since she has been named the 56th annual Newburyport Yankee Homecoming general chairwoman. It’s not a role she is used to, but she is having the time of her life.
“I’m a person that really likes to be behind the scenes,” she said. “I love to get everybody involved. It’s what I do and I kind of pull everybody into Yankee Homecoming. The event chairmen that I have this year are all passionate about Yankee Homecoming. They all want to make their events special. They’ve worked hard on them. They’ve worked on it all year.”
Jennings currently lives in Rowley, but used to own a home in Newburyport. She’s also worked at the social services agency Turning Point Inc. in the city since 1986 — two facts that allow her to joke that she has “dual citizenship.”
As chairwoman, one of the most important tasks for Jennings has been creating the program book and she even managed to get a hold of the Homecoming’s first program book from 1957 for inspiration.
“It’s just beautiful,” Jennings said the original program book. “This is where it all started.”
This year’s Yankee Homecoming theme is “The Legends Through The Years,” which Jennings chose to help participants reflect on memories of the past chairpersons.
She’s promising a lot of fun at every one of the 24 events.
Once again kicking off the festivities will be the High School Battle of the Bands at Market Landing Park on Friday July 26. Open to high school students from 7 local towns, this year’s winners will receive a recording session at On The Fringe Studios, as well as be given the opportunity to open for one of the headlining acts at this year’s waterfront concert series which begin on Sunday, July 28. A new performer will take the stage each night of the celebration, including the B Street Bombers, Beatlejuice, Ayla Brown, Rockbottom, Country Mile Band and the Compaq Big Band.
“You see the kids, they all work together as a team,” Jennings said. “It’s a little competitive, but the kids are always good.”
The waterfront park will also be the site of Brewfest on July 27, which features the Pete Kilpatrick Band. Old-Fashioned Sunday revelers will fill the Bartlet Mall on Sunday, July 28, which will feature the return of the popular Dunk Tank this year. A family midway offering carnival games and contests will also be set-up as the Atlantic Pro Wrestling gives a family-friendly show that promises some thrills.
On Saturday, Aug. 3, Family Day at Maudslay State Park will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. before the big fireworks display kicks off at the waterfront in downtown that night.
“It’s better than ever this year,” Jennings said of Family Day. “It’s bigger. There are more activities for kids of all ages and there is a pathway of over 100 businesses. Last year we had over 1,000 visitors and this year I expect more because it is a Saturday and parking is free.”
The big finale will be of course, Jennings’ favorite, the Yankee Homecoming parade on Sunday, August 4. This year, Jennings will be marching in it along with the special needs individuals she works with at Turning Point who made her a float.
For more information on Yankee Homecoming or to view the entire schedule of events, visit www.yankeehomecoming.com.