Archived Story

Fife Dowagiac’s biggest Ohio fan

Published 8:30pm Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, Ohio’s Fred Fife is back in Dowagiac, anticipating another Dogwood Fine Arts Festival.
The miracle of the swallows takes place each year at the Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19.
As the little birds wing their way back to the most famous mission in California, the village takes on a festive air, with visitors from all parts of the world and all walks of life, gathering in great numbers to witness the miracle.
The miracle with Fred, who doesn’t have a computer or cellphone, is that he ever found Dowagiac at all in 2006 to see author Sarah Vowell.
This year, he’s especially looking forward to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason’s May 19 concert at the middle school Performing Arts Center.
In fact, as a volunteer, he was stuffing Mason post cards into mailers Wednesday morning.
I mention Vowell’s “The Wordy Shipmates,” which I got as a Christmas present.
He found it “hard to get through,” but promises to give it a second look.
“There wasn’t enough quintessential Sarah Vowell,” said Fred, who last visited in October.
“I try to come up in March for a couple of days” helping festival secretary Bobbie Jo Hartline around Dogwood headquarters in Huntington Bank.
“I cannot wait for Dave Mason. I’m stoked,” Fife said. “This will be the first concert I’ve been to since the White Stripes and Rolling Stones down in Columbus.”
He’d not even heard of Michigan’s Jack White, who opened.
“The Stones were the first show I ever saw. It was down at the Hoosierdome, but they’d just thrown up all the RCA signage. Counting Crows opened and I’m 22 and there to see the Stones.”
“I can’t believe this town doesn’t embrace (Dogwood) more,” Fife said. “I guess it’s hard to appreciate something that’s in your backyard.”
Fife particularly enjoyed author Dennis Lehane.
“Great writer, but the endings are such bummers. I even told him when he signed ‘Shutter Island’ for me that it is the fourth-worst ending after ‘Mystic River’ after ‘Citizen Kane,’ No. 2, and ‘Easy Rider,’ No. 1. I’m sure he’d have three of the top five if I was to read another of his books. I read to run away from my problems, not take on other people’s.”
Fife met Vowell at Wood Fire, then asked her to sign the photo at another appearance in February 2007 in Indianapolis.
“I was right in the middle of telling her she’s a national treasure when she leaned in and gave me a little Mona Lisa smile. I hung it up and whenever I’m feeling bummed out, I feel better. I like her irreverent smart-aleckyness and I’m a history buff and a deteriorating civics nerd. I’m this close to chucking voting.”
In Ohio, he “tinkers around in a shop” with his brother, which provides both of them with flexible schedules. His brother leans more to watching drag racing, trail riding and deer hunting in Kentucky.
“I can’t believe it took me this long to find about this,” Fife said. “I made all the arrangements in January. February, I start chomping at the bit. Some people have Disneyland, to me Dowagiac is the happiest place on earth. Eventually, I’m going to live here and you guys will be like, ‘It was so much nicer when he visited.’”

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