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A Heritage Worth Honoring

Nov 06, 2013 11:11AM ● Published by Arden Haley

By Rebekah Elliot

For almost three decades, Tracie Thomas has volunteered at the Waterfowl Festival—an event held each November that welcomes scores of visitors to downtown Easton with the allure of beautiful art exhibits, lively outdoor entertainment, and delectable local cuisine. Though Thomas can’t quite recall the exact year she began volunteering with the annual festival, she knows it was some time in the mid-’80s.

“Their records only go back to ’89,” the Eastern Shore native says with a laugh. “One day, I need to go back and find my oldest badge, since all the badges have the festival year on them, and actually figure it out.”

It all began, she says, when she was recruited by a friend to volunteer. The two girls were responsible for checking admission tickets to the carving exhibit at the former Armory building, located on the corner of South Harrison and South streets—the same building that now serves as the festival headquarters, she says.

“We had people lined up outside the carving exhibit waiting to get in,” she says, with a noticeable air of excitement in her voice. As she begins her chronological tale of volunteer efforts over the past 25-plus years, it’s obvious her admiration of the popular event was instantaneous. She talks so warmly about her ever-increasing responsibilities that it often seems like her voluntary involvement is actually a full-time occupation.

“Half of my life has been spent with this festival, but it’s not a full-time job,” she says, adding that her regular nine-to-five is spent as a controller at Easton Utilities. “I just think (the festival is) a really important part of our heritage on the Shore. I really love what it brings to our community.”

At some point, she says, an additional chairman position was established to help organize the carving exhibit volunteers, so Thomas put her name forward and was selected. She worked on that committee for a number of years until the festival expressed the need for someone to be in charge of ticket sales.

“With my accounting background, I took over tickets and instituted different processes from what we had done previously so we could better account for ticket sales throughout the weekend,” she says. As a result of Thomas’ willingness to take on what she jokingly refers to as “the job no one wanted,” she was asked to sit on the festival board beginning in 2000. She’s served almost continuously since then, although she isn’t currently on the festival board due to term limits.

Additionally, Thomas sits on the Waterfowl Chesapeake board, an organization established a few years ago by the Waterfowl Festival’s board members to help better fulfill its conservation mission. She also organizes the musicians who perform in downtown Easton throughout the festival weekend and, most recently, began co-chairing the hospitality suite for the festival’s VIP guests.

“I’m very proud of the lifestyle we have here. And I think it’s just wonderful to have people in town to see and appreciate that, while at the same time supporting our conservation mission and seeing some beautiful artwork,” she says.

It’s somewhat refreshing to meet a volunteer who has a sincere fondness of an organization, regardless of the substantial time commitment or occasional stress it may cause. So it’s hardly surprising when Thomas keenly mentions the ample volunteer opportunities available for those with even a few hours to spare.

“It’s an easy volunteer commitment. There are lots of jobs that are very easy, fun, and you get to meet a ton of people while doing some good for your community,” she says. “And your volunteer badge is a nice ticket to the festival, too, so it’s a win-win.”

Anyone not yet convinced needs to simply spend a moment with Thomas while she talks eagerly about the festival. Her passion is undoubtedly infectious. It’s sure to sway even the least philanthropic soul into signing up as, say, a volunteer who checks admission tickets at the carving exhibit.

The 2013 Waterfowl Festival will run Friday, November 8th, through Sunday, November 10th, in downtown Easton. For more information, call 410-822-4567 or visit Waterfowlfestival.org.
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