The Chicopee colleen court poses for a photo with the first place prize for the float.
Photo credit: Joel Rodowicz

CHICOPEE — Holyoke’s annual St. Patrick’s Parade was an eventful one for Chicopee St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. The Chicopee St. Patrick’s Day float, titled “New Beginnings”, won the William C. Lunney Memorial Award in the Irish theme category with its four teacups designed for the court members, Giannalee Beach, Lilian Young, Morgan Presnal and Madelyn Rice.

Float Committee Chair Ray LeHouiller shared his excitement for winning the award.

LeHouiller has been with the Chicopee St. Patrick’s Parade Committee for 26 years with most of that time working on the float in some capacity.

“It is a lot of work but something I enjoy doing. The colleens are thrilled when they see the float for the first time, and that makes me proud of what our team accomplished,” LeHouiller added.

Every year the committee comes up with a new theme.

LeHouiller explained, “This year’s theme came about because we had new leadership for the Float Committee, and a new slate of colleen contestants, hence, a ‘new beginning.’ The young ladies meet for the first time at a traditional Irish Tea, which is held two weeks before the Coronation Ball. So that is how we came up with the tea pot and tea cups.”

The process took a few months to refurbish the foundation of past years floats and construct the new accessories.

LeHouiller said, “First we had to refurbish the floor and rebuild the body, which had become worn and damaged over the years. That took the whole month of January. Then it took us six weeks, February to mid-March, to actually build the float. That was the fastest we had ever completed it. We worked late on many nights, on Saturdays and towards the end, on Sundays. We had help from some non-members — friends, relatives and even my wife Karen did much of the papering.”

All of the hard work paid off on parade day and LeHouiller said he felt relief when it was finished because the committee worked right up until the day before.
He added, “It was a long journey getting it to Holyoke, but I was proud of what we achieved and how it turned out.”

LeHouiller said the committee can always use new committee members with float-building/carpentry skills.

Anyone interested in joining the committee can contact any member or submit a request through their website at www.chicopeespc.com.

Although the float did take home first place, the story of St. Patrick’s Day and the days after has been about who was not riding on the float, 2024 Chicopee Colleen Kinamarie Ayala.

The Chicopee St. Patrick’s Day Committee announced on Facebook the day before the parade that they “regret to announce that the colleen is not able to fulfill her obligations as stated in the contest rules.”

Comments and rumors began circulating on the Facebook post itself and those rumors only intensified when Chicopee’s float drove through the streets of Holyoke with the colleen’s court on top but not Ayala.

The day after the parade, the committee released a statement on their Facebook to explain their decision and turned off the comments on that post.

“As mentioned before, we have been working to protect Kinamarie’s privacy and have not wanted to comment further. Under no circumstance was this a racial decision, which should be evident by the fact that she was elected as our colleen in the first place. Kinamarie repeatedly violated our code of conduct, a document which she and her mother signed, and after being spoken to about this issue multiple times, she continued to violate our rules and the requirements of this position. That is why she was asked to step down,” the statement read. “This is an important position in the Chicopee community, and we are saddened that this issue is taking away from the court who is serving the community well. None of us benefit from false accusations and rumor spreading and at this time, we want nothing more than a positive experience coming off of parade weekend.”

Ayala marched with Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia who wanted to make sure she still participated in the parade.

Both the St. Patrick’s Day Committee and Ayala and her family have said on social media they would provide no further public comments at this time. Family members have also asked the public to stop what was described as “hateful comments” and instead support Ayala.