By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette —
For 25 years, City of Tonawanda auxiliary police officer Mark Acevedo has had a tough job at the Canal Fest parade — standing on the corners, directing traffic and helping pedestrians in the heat, rain and wind.
But this year, when police handed out the parade assignments to the volunteer officers, Acevedo didn't get one.
Instead, he was thrown the keys to the Tonawanda police car that would lead the parade.
"It was quite a surprise," said Acevedo, Tonawanda's longest tenured auxiliary police officer. "I was expecting to get a corner to stand at. I was quite ecstatic."
Acting Chief William Strassburg came up with the idea after Acevedo told him he planned to retire within the next few months.
"I just really wanted to do something special for him," Strassburg said. "There are only two paid police officers that have been here longer than him. He has done all the tough events, when people don't want to leave their families, he was here."
The auxiliary captain, Bob Vogt, said Acevedo, who volunteered for North Tonawanda's volunteer force for five years before making the move to Tonawanda, is a critical part of his team.
"I've only been here seven or eight years, and Mark is one of my backbones. He is one person I go to for help, to see how things used to be done," Vogt said. "I couldn't have been more happy for him."
Mayor Ron Pilozzi also spoke to Acevedo's years of service.
"He is the complete example of volunteerism in this community," Pilozzi said. "The residents of the City of Tonawanda have nothing but praise for his service. I'm sorry to see him go."
Another parade leader, the grand marshal, fit in well with this year's theme for the event — "celebrate our holidays."
Ian Petrella, an actor best known for his role in as Ralphie Parker's younger brother, Randy, in "A Christmas Story," led the annual event as grand marshall sitting atop a Twin City Ambulance float.
Joe Lavey, president of Sweeney Hose Fire Company in North Tonawanda, first brought Petrella to the area in December for a showing of "A Christmas Story" at the Riviera Theatre.
The pair became quick friends, and Lavey asked Petrella to come back to North Tonawanda for the movie's 30th anniversary tour Dec. 14.
"I asked him to come down for the parade to celebrate and start spreading the word about the tour in December," Lavey said. "There are only a few select cities in the country for the tour, and he had a great experience here last year ... and he agreed."
Lavey was excited for Petrella to take part in the event.
"I can't remember any of the parades having a movie star as grand marshal," Lavey said of the parade, which draws thousands of area residents to the streets each year.
Lavey, who is a huge fan of "A Christmas Story," along with his family, also took part in the annual event. Although his family was going to dress up as the characters from the movie — his wife had agreed to wear the iconic pink bunny suit — the extreme heat foiled those plans.
"My son still wore his Ralphie glasses and was carrying a BB gun, though," Lavey joked.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley