Paula Thorp, every inch an Italian, chosen as grand marshal for Saturday’s Cutchogue parade

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03/10/2011 6:00 AM |
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Cutchogue St. Patrick's Day Parade grand marshal Paula Thorpe.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Cutchogue St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal Paula Thorpe.

Paula Thorp may wonder why she, a good Italian girl, will lead this year’s Cutchogue St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, but for Joe Corso, who helped choose her, it was a no-brainer. 

“When you think of people who are really active in the community, her name immediately comes to mind,” said Mr. Corso, who in addition to serving as president of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce also coordinates the North Fork’s only St. Paddy’s Day parade.

Each year the chamber selects someone from the Southold community to wear the green sash and march at the front of the parade. In 2010, with the focus on business, the chamber named Southold jeweler Bob Scott grand marshal. This year, the chamber looked for a community activist and Ms. Thorp “was an easy choice,” said Mr. Corso.

By profession, she’s a nurse manager at San Simeon nursing home in Greenport. Outside of work, she serves on the board of the East End Maritime Museum and runs the group’s Maritime Festival parade each fall. Ms. Thorp and her husband, Frank, a retired teacher, are very active chamber members, Mr. Corso said, and she can always be counted on to lend a hand with the organization’s events and fundraising activities.

“She’s been a real community asset,” he said. “She always steps up to the plate.”

While her husband is Irish, Ms. Thorp conceded that “there’s not a drop of Irish in me.” If for no reason beyond that, her selection as grand marshal took her completely by surprise, she said.

“I still can’t believe it’s true,” she commented.

The Jackson Heights, Queens, native moved with her family to Southold when she was in fifth grade. Her father owned a business across the Sound in Connecticut and her mother ran a launderette in what’s now Greenport’s Chowder Pot Pub on lower Third Street on the harbor. “When my mother sold that property we were ready to kill her,” Ms. Thorp laughed. “I could have been a millionaire!”

Raising her own family, she lived for a time in Port Washington, where her husband taught social studies. An RN, she worked locally in private duty. They became full time North Forkers in 1996.

Ms. Thorp quipped that she had raised her Irish husband’s culinary intelligence quotient. “All he knew was meat and potatoes,” she said, until he had an Italian bride. “Now my family won’t eat jar sauce because I make my own.”

If Ms. Thorp looks familiar, it’s no surprise. Her identical twin sister, Barbara Koch, lives in Southold and is a former school board member.

She’s also active in the community, which is why the chamber initially hoped the sisters would share the grand marshal honors, said Mr. Corso. But Ms. Koch is in Florida and unavailable, he explained.

Ms. Thorp said her sister had convinced her to be an active chamber member.

She added that her only other brush with celebrity status came many years ago when she and her sister sat in on a taping of “The Howdy Doody Show,” one of television’s first children’s shows, at NBC studios in New York.

Rather than watch it with the audience, kids were seated on the set in the famous “peanut gallery.” Paula and Barbara sat in the front row.

Did that portend future fame?

Ms. Thorp responded with a chuckle: “Yeah, right.”

She had one basic concern for Saturday’s parade, which steps off at 2 p.m.

“We just have to hope that with the weather we’ll have the luck of the Irish, with an Italian leading it,” she said.

Earlier this week, the forecast for Saturday seemed favorable, with a high of 47 under party cloudy skies.

With 40 groups in the line of march, including bagpipe and fire department bands, civic groups, local dignitaries, dancers, an amphibious rescue vehicle from the sheriff’s department and the NJROTC color guard, Mr. Corso said he very much hoped meteorologists got it right. Last year, stormy weather forced a two-week postponement.

“We’re asking for prayers to the weather gods,” the chamber president said. “We’ll march in the rain, but not in a hurricane force storm.”

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