SOMERVILLE, NJ - The COVID-19 pandemic might have caused cancellation of the borough's annual Memorial Day Parade and the 80th annul Tour of Somerville cycling race Monday, but it could not alter the traditions that accompany both events.
Mayor Dennis Sullivan presided over a truncated Memorial Day service at the New Cemetery early Monday morning, honoring the nation's war dead who are buried there.
The ceremony was filmed and will be broadcast on 'Ville TV at a later date.
Rev. Canon Ron Pollock, pastor St. John's Episcopal Church, offered prayers; Karen Sophie, a senior at Somerville High School and member of the choir, performed the National Anthem and "America the Beautiful;" Sullivan offered his sentiments and a reading of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; Andrea Adair, commander of American Legion Post No. 12, presented the Memorial Wreath and Councilman Fred Wied V read General John A. Logan's 1868 order recognized as the foundation of today's Memorial Day.
Later in the day, Joe Saling, the "voice" of the Tour of Somerville for 45 years gathered with some "old-timers" as he called them near the finish line of the race on West Main Street, and at the corner of Mountain Avenue by the Pop Kugler Memorial to honor the memory of Vincent Menci, a former racer and curator of the US Bicycling Hall of Fame formerly located in Somerville.
Menci passed away on March 4 at the age of 92
"As curator of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame for its first twenty years, Vince Menci traveled widely to meet men and women who had played leading roles in racing and supporting the sport to collect memorabilia while he hosted events to raise funds for the Hall of Fame in his hometown of Somerville," Salig said.
"Along the way, he may have shaken hands with more national and world cycling champions than anyone," he added.
The group paying tribute to Menci included Salig and his wife Dottie; Mark Stampiglia, Bill Elliston, Ray Cipolleni, Jim and Paula Grill, Louise LeGoff, Deb Schiff, and Don Madson,.
When professional bike racer and bike shop owner, Fred Kugler, now universally known as “Pop,” decided to promote a bike race in Somerville, he encountered one problem. New Jersey state law prohibited racing on highways for prizes, and Somerville’s Main Street doubles as State Highway 28. To bypass this legislation, Kugler opted to name the race a “tour,” and the 50-mile Tour of Somerville was born in May of 1940.
Kugler’s son Furman, a past National Cycling champion and one of the country’s most promising cyclists, won the inaugural Tour of Somerville in 1940 and repeated his victory in 1941. Carl Anderson, a friend of the Kuglers’ won the Tour in 1942. World War II suspended the Tour from 1943-1946 and its Memorial Day date took on a sad irony when Kugler and Anderson were both killed while serving with the Armed Forces overseas. Resuming in 1947, the Senior Men’s race of the Tour of Somerville was officially renamed the Kugler-Anderson Memorial, in honor of the two past winners who gave their lives for their country.
Lawn parties held by residents on the back stretch of the race course are another tradition on race day.
Keeping the tradition alive this year was Rich Reitman, who has been hosting his party on the front lawn of his office on West High Street since 1992.
The absence of the bike race did not stop Reitman and his guests from gathering on Monday; Though not as lavish as in past years when guests arrived with trays of food, lawn hairs and coolers, there was an ample supply of adult beverages.