Longtime senior center director Karen McLaughlin honored as Cutchogue St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal
After dedicating more than three decades of service to the seniors of Southold, Karen McLaughlin will be honored as grand marshal of the 2023 Cutchogue St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“There’s probably hundreds of people more deserving,” Ms. McLaughlin said of the recognition. “I love parades … and I look at some of the past honorees that were grand marshal and I thought ‘this really is an honor.'”
The 17th iteration of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce and Cutchogue Fire Department’s annual march will take place Saturday, March 11 at 2 p.m. Ms. McLaughlin will lead the procession west down Route 25 from Cox Lane through the heart of downtown Cutchogue.
The 63-year-old who resides in East Marion served as director of the Southold Town Senior Center in Mattituck for 32 years before retiring last December. Throughout that time, she oversaw the center’s nutrition programs, which include home delivered meals and communal dining, as well as its caregiver support group, senior adult day care and case management services. Ms. McLaughlin also instituted a fleet overall to shift the center away from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles to hybrid electric cars and transportation vehicles for medical visits.
The final few years of her tenure proved particularly challenging once the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The center ramped up its meal production to deliver hot meals to client’s homes and kicked off a shopping assistance program, through which seniors order groceries to be picked up at the center or delivered to their homes.
Before she moved to the North Fork from Albany in the ’80’s, Ms. McLaughlin had a clear passion for helping society’s oldest members. She worked in Albany’s County Department for Aging prior to relocating and volunteering at Southold’s senior center. Although she was initially just a volunteer, McLaughlin strove to update existing services and implement new ideas and wrote grants to facilitate these changes.
“I guess what I’m most proud of is I was able to write grants and be creative and work with a great team of people to make it the wonderful program it is today,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “I think the grants for equipment, operations and infrastructure [total] over $10 million, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
By the end of her several decades at the center, Ms. McLaughlin had heard so many stories from the seniors she helped. They recounted local and family histories, tales of heroism, sacrifice and hardship.
“The seniors, they bring so much to the community,” she said. “They’re the greatest generation and many of them had difficult lives. You learn so much, you learn you don’t take things for granted, cherish your family, cherish every moment.”
After retiring, Ms. McLaughlin took a vacation to Cancun, Mexico, where she got the news that she would be this year’s grand marshal. A few weeks later, she returned to Southold and took up a new part-time job as government liaison for the town. Similar to her work at the senior center, she now writes grants for federal, state and county funds for various projects throughout Southold Town, including one for new ADA-compliant electric doors at her beloved senior center.
“I’m proud of just being able to serve the seniors in this community and their families,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “It’s been a privilege and it was very hard for me to retire. They say if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life, and I loved every minute of it.”
More area St. Patrick’s Day festivities
North Forkers looking to get their green on after the Cutchogue parade can direct their attention towards Jamesport. The 2023 East End Emeralds Society’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade steps off 1 p.m. on March 25 at the intersection of North Railroad and Washington Avenue in Jamesport.
On Saturday, March 18, community members can meet Joann and Patrick Waski, the grand marshals of the Jamesport parade, at the Twin Fork Beer Co. from noon to 8 p.m. The Grillin’ Villain Food Truck will be on site serving corned beef and cabbage.
Those looking for an alternative to a parade can head to The Suffolk in Riverhead on Sunday, March 12 to catch Cherish the Ladies in performance. The Grammy-nominated Irish music ensemble has toured the globe for decades “to celebrate the rise of women in what had been a male-dominated Irish music scene,” according to the theater’s website. Tickets range from $55 to $69 dollars, plus applicable fees, and are available through thesuffolk.org.