He’s back by popular demand

Jerry Peshka takes a second run as Gaspee Days president, looks to engage more volunteers

Posted 3/6/24

It is often said that history repeats itself.

I respectfully suggest that history has a little fun doing it sometimes.

In June of 1772, when John Brown and Abraham Whipple and the boys met …

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He’s back by popular demand

Jerry Peshka takes a second run as Gaspee Days president, looks to engage more volunteers


It is often said that history repeats itself.

I respectfully suggest that history has a little fun doing it sometimes.

In June of 1772, when John Brown and Abraham Whipple and the boys met at Sabin’s Tavern in Providence (which was located at what is now South Main and Planet streets) to plan what would ultimately be the burning of His Majesty’s Ship Gaspee off what we now call Gaspee Point in Warwick, little did we know that history would repeat itself in 1990 when former President of the Gaspee Days Committee Mark Russell and the boys had a beer with Jerry Peshka at Pennies Bar in Providence,  where Mark asked Jerry to volunteer on the Committee that burns the Gaspee every year.

No, there are no injuries these days, and there is no retribution from the Brits, but nonetheless, the ceremonial Gaspee would burn again with banners flying, muskets loaded, parade groups marching and a grand ole time had by all.

Thousands of onlookers and participants bask in the revelry of the history of the incident that at least local claim to be a catalyst for the American Revolution.

 Sorry, Boston, but your Tea Party pranksters came 18 months later.

Abraham Whipple and the boys fired the first shot against the British Navy.

And, because, during that era, most history books were printed in Boston (a little home field advantage!), “history” might have been recorded a little differently if this were not the case.

Which leads us back to Jerry Peshka, the only Gaspee Day Committee President to serve a second term.

Starting in 1966, under the leadership of Forrest Sprague, the Gaspee Days Committee is known throughout the country, and beyond, for its weeks long commemoration of the burning incorporating  many family-style events, like a road race, arts and crafts festival, concert, parties galore and that fantastic parade complete with Colonel Ron Barnes and the Pawtuxet Rangers.

That takes dedication and the good work of many volunteers, year-round, led of course by Jerry.

 A little background on Jerry.

Born in Berlin, Connecticut, Jerry attended Berlin schools, including Berlin High School.

He would then attend CCRI, leaving to take a position in his field of interest (computer systems), technical support and operating systems at the Outlet Department Store in Providence. Jerry left the Outlet to take a new and challenging position at Hasbro, where he oversaw their telecommunications systems worldwide.

He is married to the former Patricia Furman, and lives in Cranston with their daughter Sarah.

He works for the City of Cranston as an Accounts Payable/Pension Clerk.

 His introduction to all things Gaspee (he never heard of the ship or the story growing up) came, as mentioned when Mark Russell asked him if he was interested in “helping with a parade?” 

That was about 34 years ago. 

 He immediately went to work and tried to help in any way that he could.

In 2018, he became President, and had some clear goals, including

“beefing up” the volunteer corps which  he explained has about 65 people, 20 of whom are extremely active.

 As in all committees these days, it isn’t easy to find new members, but the constant outreach is working.

There are three new board members, who Jerry relishes for their “new ideas.”

“I’ve been on so long that it’s hard to break away from the “old ways.  Luckily, I have a wife who was in agreement.   She (also a volunteer) is a big help!”

 Jerry gets high praise for his outreach efforts from a well-known volunteer, Warwick State Representative Joe McNamara, who said, “Jerry has been a Gaspee Days Committee member for decades.  He is not only a past president but has worked on every subcommittee, Arts and Crafts, Parade and Fundraising.   Many people don’t realize that the Gaspee Days events take all year to plan, and it takes a dedicated team of community volunteers to make them successful.

Jerry has been a valued member of the team and always has a smile on his face and helps others to have a little fun, while working to improve our celebration.   We are lucky to have Jerry and members of the Gaspee Days Committee highlighting Rhode Islanders’ proper place in history as the “First Blow for Freedom.”

Asked to describe some events and some planned future events, Jerry said, “At the forefront is that we promote the Burning of the Gaspee.   We try to educate and entertain.”  He continued, “During my first term we started a Christmas Party for children.  Unfortunately, I had a health matter and couldn’t even attend.   This year we are moving the Block Party to Friday night, complete with the popular band – Neal & The Vipers, and of course some beer.”

The Arts and Crafts programs will still he held on Saturday through Monday.

Continuing the theme of new events he said, “this year we also helped with the Warwick City Christmas Parade, which was run by Gina Dooley, a past President of the Gaspee Days Committee.”

 “We lease the Aspray Boat House from the City of Warwick and hold our meetings there.   Back in 1989 when we got the first lease, we commenced refurbishing the entire building, complete with new electrical, plumbing etc.   We even refurbished the bathrooms.”

 Asked what the driving factor was to keep volunteering, he said, “people like being involved in community projects.   We are in our 59th year.   28 years ago, the budget was around $50 thousand dollars.  This year’s budget is $190 thousand, which reflects the times.

The parade alone will cost us somewhere between $75 and $80 thousand.  Port A John’s for the parade adds another $6 thousand and the road stripe itself costs about $6 thousand.”

A tax-free organization, Jerry said that donations are the lifeblood of the committee.

“We will take donations for everything but the parade.  We don’t want to commercialize it.   We invite certain elected officials, but it is not open to candidates for public office.   We try to keep in non-political.”

Another source of income is the new Gaspee Days license plates that you can get from the State Department of Motor Vehicles (my wife Celeste and I love ours).

 There are a lot of people who are delighted that Jerry stepped up to take an unprecedented second term as President.

Among them his old friend and former Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who said, “the fact that Jerry Peshka agreed to come back as President of the Gaspee Days Committee shows the commitment that people have for this annual celebration.   Jerry will be focusing on expanding the membership to a new generation of residents and build on the strong tradition of more than 50 years of community celebration.   The 2024 parade will mark the 252nd anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolution and Pawtuxet Village will once again celebrate on a grand scale.”

(I’m sure Scott has forgiven Jerry for accidentally locking his mother in the Boat House while it was under construction).

 Scott’s right.

A new generation is already volunteering.

Jerry’s daughter is currently Co-Chair of the Parade and will run it next year.

He is also hopeful that the “new generation”, or as he says “kids in their 30s” will step up to the plate and pitch in.

If you want to be one of the “new kids” or older kids volunteering for a great cause, the committee meets on the 1st Thursday of every month at 7:30pm at the Aspray Boat House in Pawtuxet Village.

Or just jump on their website at www.gaspee.com and let them know.


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