A Conversation with Dewitt DeLawter: Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the July 4th Parade Buttons, A Local Tradition That “Makes Hingham, Hingham”

Black and white photograph taken at Hingham's 4th of July parade c. 1960. A horse-drawn carriage with four men riding in it passes Old Ship Church. They are headed south, not the usual direction for Hingham's parade. The parade may be over; the sparse crowd suggests this as well. Note on back reads, "Hingham Camera Shop / 61 South Street / Hingham, Massachusetts / 4th July, Old Ship Church / c. 1960 / Mason Foley, Jimmy Gordon, back seat." In the collection of the Hingham Historical Society [2013.0.41].

June 15, 2021 by Gabrielle Martin

Dewitt DeLawter has served on the July 4th Parade Committee for half a decade now; his involvement initially began through his membership to the Hingham Rotary Club.

“The Parade Committee would buy the buttons and the Rotary Club would distribute them throughout the town,” DeLawter explains. “On the Fourth of July, the Rotary Club walks the parade route selling buttons.”

One hundred percent of the proceeds from button sales go to, as DeLawter puts it, “Keep the tradition going.”

After all, he says, “The parade is privately funded. There’s not one dime of town money that goes to the parade, and it only happens because of the hard work of people who want to make it happen. People think the parade magically happens every year—well, it doesn’t.”

In fact, it costs between $30,000 and $35,000 to throw the annual July 4th Parade. So how much of that is button-backed? DeLawter says that two years ago, their button sales raised about $7,000 to $8,000.

He adds, “I mean, two months ago we didn’t think we were going to have a parade—and then the governor changed the rules, and now we’re all scrambling to put together a meaningful event.”

His advice? “When you see something as simple as a parade button, contribute! Buy one. Participate in the 50 flags campaign.” Simply stated, your support is fundamentally important in keeping this beloved local tradition alive!

Plus, the buttons have been different each year since their start in 1992. “For the first 4 years, the design was done by a company; then, in 1996, somebody came up with the idea of, ‘Well why don’t we make it more fun?’”

That’s when the town’s fifth grades became involved in the creative process. “The Fourth of July parade committee comes up with the theme and gives it to the art teachers at all 3 elementary schools, plus St. Paul’s.” DeLawter shares. “Once the students submit their designs, the parade committee picks a winner.” The winner gets their name printed on the buttons—a practice which began in 2012—and gets to march in the parade!

“It’s a fun little tradition,” he says. This year, the town will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of buttons.

DeLawter knows of 5 individuals who have complete sets, the first belonging to Town Hall; the others are himself, Geri Duff, Jim Murphy, and “a gentleman on Arnold Road” who was initially a few buttons shy of the full set, a situation which Dewitt helped remedy.

In honor of 30th anniversary, DeLawter has coordinated with at least 12 local merchants to assist in selling buttons: Acquire Good, Atlantic Bagel, Carolann’s, Eastern Bank, Hingham Institute of Savings, La Petit Maison, Ralph’s Hingham Wine Merchant, RSVP, Station 27 Hair Salon, William Davies Real Estate, and Whitney Gordon Jewelers. They will also be available for purchase at the local library and Town Hall.

DeLawter recalls meeting a woman at a Taste of Hingham Event who told her daughter that she would be designing a button, just as her mother had done when she was in fifth grade! "The button has become a multi-generational event," DeLawter says, lamenting that traditions and legacies like these are “what makes Hingham, Hingham.”

When asked what the Fourth of July means to him, DeLawter is quick to say, “Family.”

Then, when asked what his favorite part of the parade, he responded by saying, “Why, selling buttons, of course! I have a lot of fun; my wife and I do it together, plus my son and granddaughter sell buttons at the parade.”

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