OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Sam Robles, an 11-year-old boy dressed as George Washington, said he had been planning his costume for more than a year before Thursday’s annual Independence Day parade in Ocean Park, a vibrant waterfront community of narrow streets and beach cottages with wrap-around porches.
Sam arrived early with his parents outside the Agnes L. Park Recreation Building, known locally as the Rec Hall, for a bike decorating contest.
He joined about 75 other kids gathered on the street in a swarm of red, white and blue flags, streamers, hats and sparkling stars.
“I wanted to do this last year, but my dad’s in the Navy, so we had to skip it,” Sam said as he got ready to pedal. “I remembered Washington crossing the Delaware, then me and my dad decorated my bike as a boat.”
Sam wore a white wig, hat and knee-high boots with buckles as he gently rode, not rowed, his boat down the street. The judges took notice, too, and chose him as the winner in his age category.
Sam’s family currently lives in the South American nation of Ecuador, where Sam’s father Mike Robles is assigned to the U.S. Embassy, but they come back to their cottage in the tightly-knit beach neighborhood in Old Orchard Beach each year.
“Every summer, Ocean Park — it’s our anchor,” Sam’s mother Tonya Robles said.
Paul LaRosa of Newburyport, Mass., came to the bike decorating contest, which served as a mini-parade before the main event, with his three daughters — Hailey, 8, and Maya, 6, on their bikes and 3-year-old Lauren on her decorated tricycle.
“Our family friends have a house on Randall (Avenue), so we’ve been coming every year,” LaRosa said. “They have a great time. They like the parade.”
Hailey liked the bike decorations so much that she left her’s partially decorated all year from last year’s parade, and the girls freshened up their decorations with bouquets of red and white flowers in their handlebar baskets to add to the patriotic streamers woven between their spokes.
The streets all around Temple Avenue and its towering pine trees were filled with people, locals and summer residents, long before the 63rd Annual Independence Day Community Parade actually began, serving as a social hour for many getting reacquainted again from past summers.
Lauren Gallagher, the head clown in a throng of eight clowns with painted faces and loudly colored outfits, described the parade as “Norman Rockwell visits Ocean Park.”
Gallagher, also known as “Bessie the Clown” with her pink wig and foot-wide sunglasses, said she lives in New Jersey, but “I summer here in Ocean Park.”
“It’s a great parade. Anybody who wants to be in it can be in it. A little red, white and blue and put it on and you’re in the parade,” she said, with a smile on her painted face. “We love it and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on the Fourth of July.”
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at