Friday, May 17, 2013

Three Decades of Niska-Day

A glimpse of Niska-Day activities at Craig Elementary School in 2009.
Photo from the Daily Gazette ( 

This Saturday is the 32nd annual Niska-Day in Niskayuna. Organized by the Niskayuna Community Action Program (N-CAP), the event serves to celebrate and foster a feeling of community in the town.

In the fall of 1981, N-CAP began planning the first Niskayuna Community Day (the name was soon changed to Niska-Day), sending a letter encouraging community organizations, schools, businesses, churches, and neighborhood associations to participate. The first Niska-Day was held on May 29, 1982. Organizer J. Daniel Tearno said that "people were skeptical" about Niska-Day initially, since the "bedroom community" had never before demonstrated community pride. However, the first Niska-Day proved to be a success. Rainy weather did not keep crowds away from the day-long festivities, which included a parade, a magic show, a "celebrity softball" game of television station WTEN versus radio stations WTRY and WPYX, tug-of-war, musical performances, craft and game booths, an art show, chess competition, a fun run, a tennis tournament, soccer scrimmages, and a dance contest. More than 70 groups participated in the first parade.

The crowd at the first Niska-Day in 1982 gather around Niskayuna High School students in tug-of-war. From Niska-Day clipping file.  

Cover of program for the first Niska-Day. From Niska-Day clipping file. 

Many of the features of Niska-Day have remained the same over the past 32 years, such as the parade, musical performances, craft and game booths, fireworks display, etc. Each year's celebration has had a theme, ranging from education and volunteerism to Mardi Gras and "going country" (this year's glitzy Las Vegas theme even features an Elvis impersonator as grand marshal). Festivities were generally held on the grounds of Niskayuna High School. In 2008, due to construction at the high school, events were held at Craig Elementary School. The decision was made to continue festivities at Craig due to the proximity to the Niskayuna Soccer Club Fields for extra picnic and family space. In addition to the standard Niska-Day activities, there have been a few highlights that stand out over the years. In 1987, students at Niskayuna Middle School constructed a float that operated as a working kazoo. Billed as the "World's Largest Kazoo," it was over 8 feet long. A snare drum head served as its resonator. In 1990, the Hometown Sprits, a basketball team made up of local politicians, teachers, and coaches, played against the Harlem Wizards. Niska-Day featured a Civil War encampment in 1991 and a re-enactment in 2003. The 1991 Niska-Day was reported to have drawn more than 20,000 people -- more than the population of the entire town at that time. Estimates of attendance for other years during the 1990s tended to range around 7,000-10,000.

Refreshment booth at Niska-Day in 2010. Photo from

Niska-Day has also faced some challenges through its history. The 1986 Niska-Day was thought at the time to be possibly the last, due to liability insurance costs. A few years later, in response to reported cases of measles at Rosendale Elementary School, organizers encouraged pupils from that school not to attend (those who did attend Niska-Day would be required to present proof of immunization). Niska-Day has often fallen on rainy days, but, as Niska-Day Committee Co-Chair Denise Leader said in 2008, "we've come to realize that if you put the tents up, they will come." Only one Niska-Day has been cancelled due to inclement weather -- a snowstorm in May 2002. Niska-Day could not be rescheduled, but organizers created a Niska-Night on the Green celebration in July of that year on the grounds of Niskayuna Town Hall.

The annual Niska-Day celebration is the largest of its kind in the region. "This kind of thing is really essential to a community," said Elizabeth Kiffney, Niska-Day chair, in 1987. "It's a day for families and neighbors to be friends and neighbors - together." Niska-Day Committee Co-Chair Bill Leader said in 2011, "This event has been going on for 30 years. Kids that grew up with Niska-Day are now parents bringing their kids."

For more information about this year's Niska-Day activities, visit

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