Louis Escobar grand marshall of Portsmouth's 375th parade


PORTSMOUTH — He advocates tirelessly for fellow farmers and gives local residents a spectacular fireworks show every Fourth of July.

You'll get your chance to wave and say "Thanks, Louis," at Portsmouth 375th Labor Day weekend parade on Saturday, Aug. 31. Dairy farmer Louis Escobar was named grand marshall of the parade by the Portsmouth 375th Steering Committee Thursday night.

"He's done so much for our community," said Doug Smith, chairman of the steering committee. "We need to give something back to him."

On Friday, Mr. Escobar said he was moved by the gesture, which took him by surprise.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words," he said. "There are a lot of people in this community who do a lot and I make no special effort. I do what I love doing, and I'm so honored."

The parade is just one of many events the 375th committee has on tap this year, but it will feature more pomp and circumstance than the others. Lynne Stagg, who will be installed as lord mayor of Portsmouth, England next month, will attend the festivities to honor the 375th anniversary of Portsmouth's founding. Two other mayors — from Portsmouth, Va., and Portsmouth, N.H. — also plan on being here.

The procession will roughly follow the same route as the high school's homecoming parade, which starts at the school, heads down Education Lane, turns south on East Main Road and loops around to Turnpike Avenue before ending back at PHS. The committee had originally hoped to have the parade in Island Park, but changed its mind after concerns were raised about parking and traffic congestion.

In nominating him to be grand marshall, Mr. Smith said Mr. Escobar "would be the perfect guy to sit with Miss Rhode Island in the front of a convertible." Committee member Bob Hamilton, a friend of Mr. Escobar's, joked that a tractor might be a more appropriate vehicle.

Fireworks for all

That's what Mr. Escobar was operating when we caught up with him Friday at Escobar's Highland Farms, which he co-owns with his wife, Jane. The Middle Road farm is where his crew shoots fireworks for all the town to see, with Mr. Escobar dressed up as Uncle Sam for the occasion. (He's considering the same getup for the Labor Day parade.)

At this year's Independence Day celebration, you may see something special in the way of a rocket writing "375" in the sky.

"I've been asked about that and my pyrotechnician is going to get back to me," said Mr. Escobar, adding that people find it funny "that a dairy farmer has a licensed pyrotechnician."

That would be David Lacerda of Lacerda's Farm on Union Street. "He said he only keeps his license to do my show," said Mr. Escobar, adding that the rockets are fired "the old-fashion way" — by hand. But not by Mr. Escobar himself.

"I've been a crazy guy my whole life, but I'm not that whacked out. I don't go down and light those things," he said.

Like he does every year, Mr. Escobar will put a donation can out front on Middle Road right after Memorial Day. Whatever residents throw in helps, he said. With the economy being what it is, "donations have really dwindled," although some businesses such as Clements' Marketplace have been generous.

"I never sought corporate sponsorship," he said. "It is small — not much of a show at all. But it took me a long time to recognize what we had that some of the others didn't: the spirit of community."

Spokesperson for farmers

Of course, Mr. Escobar does more than host fireworks displays.

"I'm a Rhode Island daily farmer. We're an endangered species," said Mr. Escobar, who turns 75 this year.

The farm was named Rhode Island's 2012 Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year by the Rhode Island Green Pastures Committee, and some of its milk is also sold locally under the Rhody Fresh brand in conjunction with several other local farms. Mr. Escobar has also been an educator for the regional daily cooperative Agri-Mark and has traveled to Washington, D.C. when urgent agricultural matters come up before Congress.

"This is my life. It's so important to me," he said. "We do it for the love of it. There's so much more money out there to do something else."

Ms. Escobar, who works the farm with her husband, said she's glad Louis has the gift for gab.

"Agriculture needs to have more spokespeople," she said. "It's so important to have people out there pushing for things."

Although he knows the economic reality of running a farm these days, Mr. Escobar said he still sees the glass as "at least" half full. He said he often gets criticized by other farmers for having "too happy a face."

"Too bad! It's the only face I've got," he said.

Ms. Escobar said she's not worried about the grand marshall designation going to her husband's head.

"It can't get any bigger," she said.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.