On the surface, they are four ordinary women, but there is a lesser-known side to their lives.
Lynne Fuentes, of West Islip, is a certified public accountant living a relatively quiet life until about eight years ago, when her sister, Noel, changed all that. Noel Fuentes, 46, of Glen Cove, who then worked at Macy’s, took up the call by management to participate in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Noel jumped at the idea and thought it would be extremely fun,” said Lynne, 48.
Noel is still part of the team even though she lost her job during the pandemic.
“I wasn’t on board at first, because I always enjoyed going out the night before Thanksgiving, and being with my friends,” Lynne laughs. “But, as I got older, and saw how much my other sisters enjoyed doing this, I decided to join them.”
Since then, at least two sisters have gone to the parade every year, if they cannot all make it. But this year, they were all in.
“Obviously, some years, we were busy having kids, etc. etc., but when we can, we always try to go together,” says Lynne. “It is so much fun. We really feel like kids doing it.”
Sisters Noel and 41-year-old Kathleen Nuzzi, of North Wantagh, began their journeys at Clown University, a part of the Big Apple Circus, where they “met the people that would be in their groups,” and learned the ropes of clownery. Lynne and 34-year-old Bernadette Johnson chose to learn through experience.
“The first time I did the parade, I thought I would just do it once, just to say I did it, but me and my sisters fell in love with it,” Noel said. “This is my twelfth parade, and I love how friends and family have made it their annual tradition to try and find us on TV. These are memories that my sisters and I can cherish.”
Noel currently serves as a clown captain, after having been promoted her second year.
Her role begins a few weeks before the parade at the “big apple circus, where with assistance from a professional clown, we teach our group a routine that will entertain spectators along the parade route.”
Additionally, she assists in “getting the group in their costumes, and painting on those red cheeks and noses,” at around 6 a.m. at the meeting place of the New Yorker Hotel and ensures that the approximately 800 clown volunteers head to their respective buses, which will then bring them to their “clown corners.” She works hard to keep everyone enthused, and on pace throughout the long walk from West 77th Street & Central Park West to Sixth Avenue, in front of Macy’s Herald Square.
According to sister Bernadette, the greatest joy of partaking in the yearly festivities is “sprinkling confetti all over the watching kids, shouting ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’ “
“I also love that it is something I get to do with my sisters. It has become part of our tradition.”
But, bringing happiness to the faces of adoring children, as the “fill the gaps” between floats and performers, is not the only benefit of doing the parade.
Jody Ruggiero, a 43-year-old woman from Levittown, who the family considers their “adopted clown sister,” is a woman Noel met through her training. They have worked the parade together, ever since, and began putting together bags for the homeless before they get ready for the parade.
The good they are able to do, coupled with the friends and memories they have made, has made this annual extravaganza “something we have completely fell in love with.”
Toni-Elena Gallo is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.