I want to say thank you to the many, many people who made the 2019 All-American Harvest Festival such a huge success. But the two little words — "thank you" — seem far too inadequate.
Harvest Festival has, for years, been a Chamber of Commerce endeavor. So planning the weekend's events, gathering materials, enlisting volunteers and all of the other details fall on the Chamber. It's a big undertaking. That's why we can't do it alone.
This year, a special events committee was formed with a couple of Chamber board members and four other community volunteers. With the exception of one board member, none of these committee members had previously been involved in planning the Harvest Festival. But each one of them jumped in wholeheartedly to put together a weekend of fun events for the entire family. To say they succeeded is putting it mildly. Members of that committee (in case you want to thank them personally) are Dr. Kim Johnson and Trenton Long from the Chamber board of directors, Roxanne Converse-Whiting, Mary Bell, Casey Madsen and Kimberlyn Vontz. (Round of applause, please!)
Then, each one of these committee members enlisted co-workers, friends, relatives and, in a couple of cases, even strangers. (Well they're not strangers anymore.) These folks rounded up tables and chairs and microphones and white boards and coolers and fence panels ... you get the idea. There are a lot of moving parts when you start to put together events that cover four days. I can't begin to list all of the people who had a hand in the Harvest Festival activities, because I'd surely leave someone out. But there were lots and their time and commitment didn't go unnoticed.
And then there are the participants — the people who left the sidelines to get involved, to do the activities, to have the real fun in all of this. I don't know all of the numbers. I leave most of that to the individuals running events. But I can tell you we had 69 parade entries decked out in red, white and blue cruising down Lake Avenue in front of literally thousands of spectators. There were also 48 vendors at Arts in the Park, 10 teams in the bed races, 42 cornhole teams (and a whole lot more wishing they would have registered), 125 vehicles of all kinds in the car show and nine co-ed softball teams disappointed because rain Saturday night left the fields unplayable.
It was amazing, to say the least.
And guess what ... we're already throwing around some fabulous ideas for next year. Want to be a part of that? Let me know. Have some thoughts on how the things we did in 2019 might work better in 2020? Let us know. We can't make the changes you wish for if we don't know about them and we can't implement new activities you want if we don't know you want them. Feedback is a beautiful thing. We learn from both the positive and the negative, but especially from the constructive. It just takes a minute to pick up the phone (308-537-3505) or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Believe me when I say we'll consider it all.
So again, it seems quite insignificant, but THANK YOU for making Harvest Festival 2019 such a tremendous success.
I seem to be struggling today to keep my mind on the many, many Harvest Festival tasks at hand. Normally, I can multi-task with the best of 'em and whittle away even a long to-do list. But today, my focus is poor and I don't seem to be accomplishing all I had hoped.
My mind keeps replaying pictures. My stomach and my heart are recalling the deep despair. Social media threads share repetitive messages: "Where were you?" "We will never forget."
I know I will never forget.
I had just walked my boys, then second and fifth grades, into their elementary school. The morning news was on the television that hung from the ceiling in the commons area and a couple of staff members were standing beneath it, attention unwavering. Like a magnet to steel, I was drawn toward the TV when another mom came through the double doors in a panic. "Did you see it?"
The news coverage was difficult to follow at first, mostly because the commentators were still unsure exactly what was happening. School children kept filing by while the group of adults caught in a gaze continued to grow. I don't know how much time passed while I stared at the television. I don't know exactly how many other parents were paralyzed there with me. I do know, though, that my heart hurt and I was confident my safe little world would never be the same, even in central Nebraska.
I can't un-see the images of men and women in business suits running away from the clouds of ash. Or the firemen and first responders risking their own safety, their own lives, while moving in to perhaps save another. I can't erase the video clips of spouses in utter despair, police officers comforting witnesses, rescue dogs sniffing debris. Then there were the recordings of final phone messages and radio transmissions. It's all fresh, right there in the confines of my memory, as if I were reliving it again 18 years later.
I suppose folks in the generations older than me have similar recollections of Dec. 7, 1941. The country's shock following the bombings at Pearl Harbor have often been compared to 9/11, but the transmission of information and images was not even close to instantaneous.
Like many from the Pearl Harbor era do in December, I pause on this September anniversary date every year to remember the tragedy and honor the lives lost. I don't know why this particular year it seems to be capturing such a large portion of my attention, but it does. So, I've decided to give myself a little grace.
And on Sept. 12, I will make a concerted effort to recall the America I experienced "the day after." When politics and status and color didn't divide us. When the mantra was "united we stand." When we used our manners, hugged a little tighter and remembered our prayers.
I will never forget.
Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.
— Marjorie Moore
The first time I saw this quote, my instant reaction was, "oh yeah!" Look around ... Why is Gothenburg used as an example for many across the state, even the country? (i.e. All-America City) Because there are a whole host of residents willing to volunteer, willing to sacrifice their personal time to ensure the quality of life in Gothenburg sets the trend for others.
In the Chamber of Commerce world, we work with volunteers every day. Folks who serve on the board of directors give their time. Committee members give their time. People freely volunteer to help set up events, work during events and we never have to wonder if there will be enough people to clean up. Obviously, the Chamber is not unique in this.
Look at our theatre, our senior center, even our school system. We wouldn't have nearly the programs, events, rock-solid civic institutions that we enjoy in Gothenburg without the people here who are willing to give and give and give. Basically, we've built a culture, an expectation of volunteerism.
Of course there are those who seem to get called upon over and over. They are recognized for their generosity of time and they've proven they can get things done. There are others who are a bit more conservative taking on commitments, but still highly trustworthy.
Each of us has a responsibility to preserve the spirit of volunteering. The Gothenburg school system has made a conscious effort to teach our kids the value of doing something for others with no expectation of getting anything in return. But let's not leave this mission entirely to our educators. Ask your neighbor to come along when you're volunteering at church. Talk to the new guy at work about joining your favorite civic group. Get involved and help the rookies in town jump in feet first as well.
You can't always control your taxes, the people who move into your neighborhood or where you get to park at the grocery store, but you can control where you spend your spare time. You might as well make your community a better place.
is the Executive Director of the Community Development Office, which encompasses the Gothenburg Chamber of Commerce and the Gothenburg Improvement Company.