By Tammy Whitacre
PALMYRA — Gary and Rena Haigh are “still in shock” about the news.
The couple has been named grand marshals of the 46th annual Palmyra Canaltown Days parade. The annual festival celebrating all things Palmyra takes place Saturday, Sept. 14 and Sunday, Sept. 15. The parade, one of the highlights of the event, which draws thousands to the village, kicks off at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“It is quite an honor,” Rena said. “We are very humbled.”
For Tom Klemann, chairman of the Canaltown Days Committee, honoring the Haighs as grand marshals only makes sense.
“Canaltown Days tries to select people who have given of themselves to the community,” he said. “There are many ways to give back, but I think that volunteerism is one of the best ways to give of one's self. With their laundry list of various volunteer activities, it is well deserved.”
For Gary, the honor means they fill some pretty big shoes, but they’re happy to do it.
“The people who have preceded us are the ones that have set the bar pretty high on volunteerism,” he said. “They’ve also set great examples for us younger folks. Who wouldn’t want to be following in their footsteps?”
Gary and Rena grew up in the Palmyra area, and except for 11 years when Gary’s job took them to Texas and then Georgia, the couple has always called Palmyra home. In fact, when they decided to move back to New York, Gary and Rena chose Palmyra. Rena’s parents, Dick and Jean Edwards, were still living in Palmyra at the time and they had instilled a great love for the community in Rena. For the Haighs, Palmyra offered a safe place to raise their children, good schools, an exceptional community center and library.
“Palmyra has a real sense of community,” Rena said. “Palmyra people see a need and work on that need. (They) understand that we are neighbors and work together to help make this a terrific community.”
Rena, who retired a year ago from Creative Environment Children’s Center in Macedon, has since thrown herself into volunteering. She is a driver with the We Care program to transport people to doctor’s appointments. She is an elder at the Western Presbyterian Church, where she said they have expanded their community into Kenya, where the church is helping to raise money for shoes for children and bringing water to a village.
Rena is also an active member of the Palmyra-Macedon Lions Club, helping to provide vision screenings and glasses to local children, supporting the food pantry, providing hearing aids and supporting Dollars for Scholars.
Gary has shown a commitment to the community in his volunteer efforts as well.
“I’ve spent about 30 years working on Canaltown Days since 1981 when it was a small celebration in the park,” he said. “(I) began my CTD career in ‘garbage.’ Doesn’t sound glamorous, but it was a lot of fun.”
The couple co-chaired the Ox Roast for two years— an event that feeds upwards of 700 people each year at the Western Presbyterian Church. He has worked in the Palmyra Community Center booth, and for the past 13 years, has held the job of announcer at the annual festival. Gary has served for 13 years on the PCC board of directors, been a member of the Pal-Mac High School Tip Off Club and an active member in the Western Presbyterian Church for over 40 years.
His efforts extend beyond Palmyra, however. While living in Georgia and Texas he also played an active role in the community. He has been honored as the Rotarian of the Year in 2001 and received the Paul Harris Fellow in 2002. He served as the District Assembly chair in 2006, coached basketball at the PCC and baseball with the Pal-Mac Little League.
Canaltown Days is special for Gary and Rena.
“It was begun with the idea of presenting an activity that brought the community together while raising money for not-for-profit groups in Palmyra,” Rena said.
“Best of all, it’s seeing people that you haven’t seen in a long time,” Gary added. “(You’re) able to catch up on their lives.”
Canaltown Days, said Gary, falls neatly under the Pal-Mac Rotary motto, “The club has fun and gets things done.”
“In Palmyra, we have many clubs and organizations that are given the opportunity to raise money for their various organizations via the Canaltown Days format,” he said. “We make it fun and get it done. Can’t ask for more than that.”