By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Gail Hande flipped a light switch to launch the West Haven Centennial Fireworks on Friday.
The moment Hande flipped the switch, fireworks blasted off Bradley Point and exploded over Long Island Sound, dazzling the all-ages crowds along West Haven’s 3 miles of public beaches with a display of brilliant lighting and booming sound effects.
The 25-minute pyrotechnics show was presented by the City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee and the Savin Rock Fireworks Committee.
Hande, of West Haven, was accompanied by her husband, Rich Hande, for the event on a portable stage in front of Savin Rock. She was also joined by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, fireworks committee co-Chairwoman Sandy McCauley, radio personality Brian Smith, the master of ceremonies, and the evening’s entertainment, singer Kathy Thompson of the Kathy Thompson Band.
Hande was among dozens of supporters who purchased a $10 centennial lawn sign and was entered into a raffle for a chance to flip the switch to launch the fireworks, billed as “They Will Be Heard on the 3rd.”
Hande’s name was drawn in the raffle at the Aug. 28 centennial concert. She and her husband also dined on burgers and hot dogs under the fireworks committee’s hospitality tent before the display.
Rossi, the centennial committee’s honorary chairwoman, greeted the Savin Rock crowd before turning it over to Smith and Hande.
“Is everyone having a good time?” Rossi asked the crowd, which responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and applause.
“This is a very exciting evening — it’s one of our biggest centennial events,” Rossi said. “I do want to thank (Chairwoman) Beth Sabo and the centennial committee. I want to thank the fireworks committee. I want to thank public works, public safety … and a great group of volunteers as well.”
Smith then led the crowd in a countdown — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” — before directing Hande to “Flip that switch!”
“Oh, it worked!” Smith joked, as red, white, blue and green rockets flew and burst over Bradley Point.
The display was part of a six-month series of free events commemorating West Haven’s 1921 birth and its incorporation by the General Assembly as Connecticut’s youngest municipality.
Before the fireworks, people young and old danced to funk and rock hits performed by Thompson’s band.
As the music played, a fleet of food and dessert trucks dished up eats and sweets on the north side of Captain Thomas Boulevard, from Dyke Street to Platt Court.
Police closed Captain Thomas Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, from Kelsey Avenue to South Street, for about five hours to give the festivities more of a block party feel.
According to organizers, the display was moved from July 3 to Labor Day weekend to safely accommodate the many spectators expected.
The fireworks joined a long list of special events observing West Haven’s secession from Orange a century ago, including the Centennial Boat Parade in June and the Centennial Savin Rock Festival in July. The rural and residential sections of Orange separated in 1921 when the residential part, West Haven, became the state’s youngest town.
In the spirit of West Haven’s birthday, Milford vendor JOD Designs, a veteran-owned screen printing company, sold centennial and Savin Rock T-shirts.
For other centennial merchandise, visit the official online store at https://merchwebstores.com/West-Haven-Centennial/shop/home.
The store, hosted by West Haven vendor West Shore Associates, sells such centennial-branded merchandise as long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, stainless steel tumblers, stemless wine glasses, insulated beverage bottles, ceramic mugs, retro sunglasses, canvas and cotton tote bags, eco-performance face masks, and pigment-dyed twill and mesh trucker caps.
A portion of the vendors’ merchandise proceeds will support the centennial account, said Sabo, the city’s commissioner of human resources.
Watch the fireworks on West Haven YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlBe2IYc0qE&t=302s.
For a complete list of centennial events, see the schedule at https://www.cityofwesthaven.com/343/Centennial-Events.