FPC’s Signature Outreach Event
By Winny Lin
Have you ever wondered how this festival came about 25 years ago? One day I looked at our beautiful front lawn and thought, ” Why can’t we have a celebration like the Maple Mount Summer Concert organized by Julie and James White?”
First Helen Sears heard of my dream and told me to present the idea to the Session on an evening in the spring of 1998 for approval. At that time, Marisue Coy was the Session Clerk and Tricia Moore was also on the session. They both looked at me with an encouraging smile, as I was naive enough to describe my plan to hold the festival on August 15, just a few months away.
People gasped and said why August 15? It would take months or a year to plan a festival like this?!
“True!” I said, “because that’s the day we could have the showmobile from the Owensboro City available.” Have you ever heard of such a ridiculous answer? I also said, “Keith Lawrence of Messenger Inquirer will help us promote the festival, because he wrote in his column that Owensboro is ready for such a festival.” Wow! I was that confident!
Somehow, with the Lord’s blessings, the Session approved it, but without any budget. Tom Cheatham, our pastor at the time, even gave the slogan for the festival, “celebrate diversity and reach beyond ourselves”.
Afterwards, Helen met with me at Denny’s every Sunday before Sunday school and guided me to form committees, get city permit for the event, reserve the showmobile for the performances and all the logistics. Without her, it would still be a dream of mine!
From that time on, until August 15, the 3rd Saturday in 1998, I worked day and night, 24/7, and reached out to as many people as I could in the community. Many nights I would get up laughing and ran into the bathroom and shut the door, so I wouldn’t disturb Kenny. My mind would not shut down.
The volunteers were the key to success! And we had hundreds of volunteers from the very beginning!
Did you know that Carolyn Greer, Owensboro High School drama teacher; Sister Fran of Central Latino Center, Veena Sallan, professor of Owensboro Community College were the very first ones to commit and they have been with us for the longest time.
Our own members, Lucy Dawson brought her friend, Kitty, and made African soul food. She also single handedly baked dozens of Scottish shortbread to give away at the festival, until later she couldn’t physically do it any more. Finally she gave Debbie McCoy the recipe to continue the tradition.
If you have admired the gorgeous purple and blue banners that hang down from the top of our church building, that was designed by a Daviess County High School senior, Matthew Baber, and sewn by Debbie McCoy. He was 18 years old at the time. On top of that, Stu Silberman, superintendent of Daviess County Public Schools, sent his maintenance crew to hang them up.
Things came together nicely! Amazing and unbelievable! Now the second generation is also serving, like Grae Greer. She grew up with the festival and is the daughter of Carolyn Greer.
Setting the model
1998 was also the year after Kentucky started its education reform. With the changes, the curriculum core content indicated that schools needed to cover “cultural elements” which include language, traditions, music, dances, writing, beliefs, and more. I reached out to two wonderful teachers, Carrie Oliver, Robin Nalley, and we designed “scavenger hunt and cultural questions”, so students could come to look for the answers and take something back to their teachers for extra credits.
One extraordinary scavenger hunt item was a Japanese yoyo that a company airlifted from Japan and they ran out in ONE hour.
How fun! Another highlight was I have always included Chinese children adopted by American families in Owensboro, Henderson, and Evansville since day one. These children attended my Chinese class at the church. Some were as young as 2. Now 25 years later, they are already out of college. They danced, sang, later did the Chinese dragon dance and set up the booth to share their heritage with others.
Later on, Chinese visiting educators from Wuxi Binhu School District, DCPS sister school district, and exchange students from Anshan, all brought some authentic and wonderful songs and dances on the stage. Since I left Owensboro, it has become history and sweet memories.
No matter how good an event is, we have to let people know and give them reasons to come.
I called the newspaper, radio stations, and TV shows for interviews. Messenger Inquirer sent reporters and photographers to write editorials, take pictures before and after the event. I have made friends with each one of them, especially Gary Emord-Netzley and Keith Lawrence. I even asked the publisher, John Hager, and the paper sponsored us with 1/2 price of a big ad worth of thousands of dollars. So generous!
Through the years, our own members, Helen Sears, Marisue Coy, Linda Young, Mary Dixon Baker, Creda Heffelfinger, Marna Loucks, have all served on the planning committee. Each brought their passion and skills to help the festival to grow. Mary Dixon was the one that paid and designed the festival yard signs. Creda designed the flyer so we could pass out a week or two ago in the neighborhood to alert them about the traffic and a plethora of cars.
By the way, we never had a backup plan in case of rain, because we believe if God wants us to do this outreach event to help Owensboro community, he will provide. Out of the last 24 years, only once, while it rained and stormed in all the neighboring counties, our front lawn never had a drop until 3:00pm. You could see someone holding the gray clouds above our heads.
Well, thanks to Debbie McCoy and Jeff Moles, the tradition carries on! Even through the pandemic years.