The signature event of the Gaspee Days celebration – the parade that first stepped off 52 years ago – is four months away, but Ryan Giviens knows how quickly it can come.
Giviens grew up with Gaspee Days. His parents, Terri and Ken Giviens, both served on the Gaspee Days Committee and his mother continues to run the Sunday in the Park event that concludes the celebration with the burning of the Gaspee in Pawtuxet Cove. She runs the music and entertainment and Ken Gilbert manages the colonial encampment.
It’s no wonder then that when he turned 18, Ryan became a member of the committee and was elected to the board when he was 21. In the last nine years he has held a number of positions, most recently as the first vice president. Now he is president, succeeding Jerrold Peshka, who held the post for the past two years.
At 27 years old, Giviens believes he is the youngest president of the committee, beating out Scott Avedisian by a year. Taking time out from a Gaspee fundraiser Sunday at Lemongrass Restaurant, Giviens talked about his goal to build membership and how Gaspee Days has become so much more than the parade.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he said of the overall event. “I would like to spread the burden out.”
The committee has about 50 members, not counting past presidents who frequently attend events and are a resource for ideas and as volunteers. Giviens would like to draw in younger people to offer some relief to stalwarts like Tina S. Bingham, who has been running the arts and crafts festival on Memorial Day weekend for as long as he can remember. The festival is one of two major revenue-producing events for Gaspee Days. The other is the 5K road race held the morning of the parade that falls on the second Saturday of June. The parade costs about $100,000 to stage.
As a student, Giviens said he wasn’t particularly interested in history. At URI he studied engineering and French and then switched majors and ended up with a degree in communications. He is interested in languages and said he can get along in French, Spanish, German and Mandarin. The languages have served him well in his job in hotel management. He is the sales manager at Homeward Suites in Warwick.
Giviens said the parade is a “hallmark” of Gaspee Days that the committee has done right from the start. He isn’t looking to change it but feels it has evolved into something more than fife and drums corps, militia dressed in colonial uniforms and firing muskets and cannons followed by divisions of high school bands, the Boy and Girl Scouts and local groups such as the Shriners and the fire and police departments of Warwick and Cranston. He sees the parade as bringing the community together while educating people on the significance of the burning of the Gaspee and benefiting the local economy.
An example of the work the committee is doing for Pawtuxet is the re-roofing of the Pawtuxet Park gazebo. Giviens said the committee brought the roof to the attention of the Parks and Recreation Department only to learn repairs could take months as the city would need to advertise the job for bids and follow that procedure. The Gaspee Committee suggested buying the materials and, as it was eventually agreed, city crews would do the work.
“We can spare a couple of hundred bucks,” said Giviens.
Citing the key events of Gaspee Days, Giviens pointed out that the Warwick Symphony Orchestra concert and fireworks are held on the Saturday following the arts and crafts festival. The blessing of the fleet follows on Sunday at the Rhode Island Yacht Club. The fireworks had been held on the weekend of the parade, but with the addition of the symphony orchestra they became the climax to the evening concert.
Giviens has found that his new role is giving him an education in government. He attended the Council Finance Committee meeting where the contract for fireworks was discussed but not acted upon. He said he was surprised and impressed by the extent to which the committee dug into the details.
Looking ahead, Giviens said there has been discussion about a fall Gaspee event, perhaps an Octoberfest. Nothing is finalized, but the spirit of expanding Gaspee events is alive.
Giviens also sees the organization as a unifier to many local groups, including the Pawtuxet Village Association, Friends of Pawtuxet, the Pawtuxet Rangers, Friends of Salter Grove and the newly formed Pawtuxet Village Foundation that is focused on improvements to the park playground, although the Gaspee Days hasn’t had contact with the foundation yet.
As Giviens writes in an online message, “Now as President, I can see more clearly than ever the true significance of what we do. Gaspee Days exemplifies the pride that so many of us have in our little state and our even littler town of Pawtuxet Village. It represents the community that both built our organization into what it is today and that we hope to build even stronger through the events we host every year. Most of all, Gaspee Days represents a family that we have all grown into over the years.”