ROBBINSVILLE, NJ -- Even though the Robbinsville St. Patrick's Day Parade does not step off for more than four months, organizers kicked the festivities into gear on Saturday with the official announcement of the 2020 Grand Marshall and Irish Person of the Year.  

Jim O'Donnell, president of The Robbinsville Irish Heritage Association (RIHA), formally announced the Robbinsville Police Department (RPD), under the leadership of Chief Chris Nitti, will jointly serve as Grand Marshall while John Ward has been bestowed the title of Irish Person of the Year. 

In speaking about the RPD's selection as Grand Marshall, Nitti said that the honor shows that "what we're doing is having a positive effect on the community." The RPD, which became a full-time department in 1981, currently consists of 29 officers, seven dispatchers, a discovery clerk, and two highly-trained K-9 officers.  The Department consistently implements community-based initiatives to promote open communication within the community, officials say.  

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As a sign of "appreciation for all that RIHA does," Nitti presented a $500 donation from the local Police Benevolent Association (PBA) as a sponsorship for the parade. 

John Ward, a retired educator and principal at East Windsor-Hightstown High School, serves as the current executive director of the Robbinsville Meals on Wheels program as well as a member of the local Senior Advisory Committee and volunteer as a patient relations representative at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Hamilton.  

Ward said that he grew up in a "seriously Irish family" with roots in Robbinsville dating back to 1910 when his grandfather moved to the area and began a potato farm. After retirement, Ward decided to give back to his community where he and his wife of 48 years, Sharon, live, noting that his life volunteering has "been a nice journey."

RIHA is a volunteer organization that seeks to "foster an understanding and appreciation of Irish cultural values." O'Donnell noted in his remarks that the organization began in 2010 with just five local residents coming together. Since then, it has grown to provide scholarships and organized the parade which is a widely-anticipated community event annually. 

The theme of the 2020 parade will be "Robbinsville Cares" to highlight the service and non-profit organizations within the community. 

The festivities will take place on Saturday, March 21 with an Irish Mass at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church at 8:45am. Mustering for parade participants will begin at 9:45am; opening ceremonies at 11:30am with the parade kicking off at 12 noon. 

Organizations that would like to participate in the Robbinsville St. Patrick Day Parade can log on to www.RobbinsvilleIrish.org or contact Jim O'Donnell at (609) 865-4648 or joeneck@optonline.net.

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