Celebrating John Theissen, Wantagh’s 2024 grand marshal


It was a night full of Irish spirit as Wantagh honored John Theissen, the grand marshal of this year St. Patrick’s Day Parade. On March 7, the Chamber of Commerce hosted a Grand Marshal Reception and Dinner at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.

“John is the epitome of kindness, grace, being humble, and having a mission,” Chamber President Cathy Powell said. “This is his mission in life, to make everyone else better.”

Theissen is the founder and executive director of the John Theissen Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit that helps sick and underprivileged children through donations and fundraisers. Since it was founded in 1992, the organization has collected more than a million toys for children in need at more than 180 hospitals and child care facilities.

Theissen said that the work comes naturally to him, but being an honoree does not. “Usually I’m the one that’s giving, so it’s hard for me,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for me at the parade, but I’m honored.”

This is the fourth year Wantagh has held its St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which, according to Powell, is the biggest on Long Island. Last year’s event, she said, attracted around 60,000 people, and she expects to see an even larger turnout this year.

“We put a lot of work into it, we do it the right way and everything falls together,” parade Chairman Christopher Brown said.

According to Brown, the parade has succeeded thanks to help from the community, which includes sponsors and groups that march, as well as fire, sanitation and public works departments, the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County.

“It’s a collective group that makes this happen,” Brown said.

Aside from celebrating Irish heritage, he said, the parade also recognizes its grand marshals’ contributions to the community. Past grand marshals included John Murray Jr., owner of Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall; Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder; and Michael Dunphy, owner of the Wantagh Inn.

“These are people who have done so much for our community,” Brown said, “so it’s our time to celebrate them.”

At last week’s dinner, guests were treated to performances by members of the Show Stompin’ Irish Dance School and the American Legion Pipe Band, and sashes were presented to members of community organizations who will serve as aides to the grand marshal. Karen Lofgren, first vice president of the chamber, said that being chosen to be an aide was “a recognition of one’s longstanding and exceptional service to the Wantagh community.”

Town Councilman Christopher Carini and County Legislator Michael Giangregorio presented Theissen with citations for his work in the community. State Sen. Steve Rhoads spoke at the reception, thanking the chamber for putting on the parade and honoring Theissen with a proclamation from the Senate in recognition of his charitable work over the past three decades.

“When you talk about community, when you talk about what’s important in our community,” Rhoads said, “you’ll always go back to think about those who put community first, who put people ahead of their own self, and that’s the perfect definition of John Theissen.”

Theissen was given the grand marshal’s sash, and Dunphy, last year’s honoree, presented him with a traditional blackthorn cane.

Theissen thanked the chamber, members of his foundation, family and friends. In the parade, he said, he would be marching for everyone who has been important in his life.

“I’m doing it for everyone who supports my foundation,” he said. “I’m doing it for the children that we’ve helped and children that have passed.”

Theissen said he would also be walking for Jeff Gadell, a childhood friend who died of cancer last month.

“I am so grateful,” Theissen said of being named grand marshal, “and I hope you know I do not take this for granted.”