McFarland, Wesaw to be honored Sept. 11 at SMC
Published 6:08 pm Thursday, September 8, 2005
CASSOPOLIS - Each year the Minority Coalition confers awards upon two community members who have worked to create racial harmony.
This year's recipients are Mary McFarland of Cassopolis and Jason Wesaw of Dowagiac.
Their awards will be presented at 12:30 Sunday, Sept. 11, at the International Festival on the Dowagiac campus of Southwestern Michigan College.
Mary McFarland celebrated her 60th birthday July 31.
She was born in Dowagiac and graduated with Dowagiac's Class of 1963.
Elementary school teachers were strong role models for Mary, specifically her second grade teacher, Mrs. Hathaway, her fifth and sixth grade teacher, John Ames and the principal at McKinley Elementary, James Mosier.
After graduating from high school Mary attended Benton Harbor Community College, studying elementary education and social work.
Mary enjoyed getting beyond Dowagiac and meeting new kids.
However, she eventually quit school to work full-time at Lou Ann Valley Supermarket in Dowagiac and Niles, where she had worked part-time since she was 16.
Lou Ann's owners, Russian Jews, taught Mary to work hard and have high expectations.
They sent her to Western Michigan University to take two marketing courses.
Mary met Tony McFarland on a Sunday afternoon drive arranged by a cousin.
They married when she was 22.
Mary was raised in the AME church and Church of God. She converted to Catholicism when she married Tony. Their daughter was born in 1969.
Mary has been a volunteer for most of her life.
As a very young child, she accompanied her mother on door-to-door campaigns raising money for Easter Seals, the March of Dimes and the Red Cross.
At the age of 15 Mary began volunteering for Migrant Ministries, a program sponsored by area churches.
Volunteers visited migrant camps to serve meals, play with the kids, provide basic preschool education and hold Bible studies.
When Mary was in high school, her father and Lester Stupes created the Dowagiac Teen Center where Chestnut Towers is now located. The teen center operated for two or three years, featuring live bands on weekends.
At that time Mary's brother was chief of the Dowagiac Police Department, so she never got out of line.
Mary also volunteered for Head Start and worked at the Menssana Center in Vandalia, beginning in 1979.
The Menssana Center was a day treatment center for folks with mental illness, part of what has now become Woodlands.
In 1984 area churches gave birth to Helping Hands, a wonderful "resale shop plus" in Cassopolis.
Mary became the coordinator and served in that capacity for 20 years.
The Youth Club opened its doors in October of 2003 in a space donated by the Lowe Foundation.
The Youth Club is an all volunteer effort that relies heavily on Mary and Tony McFarland. Most of the kids it serves are residents of Maple Grove Trailer Park.
Volunteering has greatly enriched Mary's life and has allowed her to help establish institutions that are major forces for good in our community.
She has touched and influenced many lives.
Mary is dedicated and hard-working; a people-person. She's someone who's not just along for the ride, but who genuinely cares about people.
Jason Wesaw was born in Bangor and grew up in Mattawan, graduating from Mattawan High School in 1992.
As a boy he was always curious about his Potawatomi Indian heritage, even though it was not considered anything special by his family.
What he did know he learned from his Grandpa, his father's father.
His grandpa was always interested in maintaining strong family ties, even with distant cousins.
After high school Jason traveled around the United States, living for awhile in Colorado.
There he started to connect more deeply with Indian culture.
He became interested in pottery from a cultural perspective.
It seemed to him that no one was actively making traditional pottery anymore.
He'd learned to make pottery the modern way at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Then he began learning the older ways of making pots.
He uses local clay from a location near Lake Michigan.
Jason has displayed his unique ceramic sculptures in galleries around the country.
They are a beautiful mix of old and new.
After moving back home Jason began getting involved with the Pokagon Tribal Education Department.
He volunteered at pow-wows, he took summer employment with the tribe and he was involved with the Potawatomi Gathering when it came to Dowagiac in 1997. This is an annual meeting of the Potawatomi that travels around the country. Jason worked closely with John Warren, who mentored him.
Tribal elders noticed that Jason's interest in the culture was genuine.
Jason considers himself American. He was in a rock band as a teen.
Now he enjoys being a part of a native drumming circle.
Jason is young to be in his position of cultural associate with the Pokagon Band, and he looks even younger than his 31 years.
However, Jason is open about what he knows and what he doesn't know.
He shares his experience about growing up with that hunger to learn about the traditional ways and how he went in search of those cultural teachings.
As the Indians say, he has a good way about him. He is very approachable, very humble, very respectful.
He doesn't approach his position as him being the cultural authority person but rather that he is on a journey to learn about the culture and he encourages others to join him along the way.
This approach has been very effective for young and old alike.
Jason hopes his efforts will help preserve native culture. His biggest project at the moment is an interactive exhibit he is helping to create that will be featured at Southwestern Michigan College for six months beginning the summer of 2006. The tribe feels fortunate Jason decided to come back to his community to work on cultural issues. Jason Wesaw is a blessing to the community - both the Pokagon Potawatomi community and the community as a whole.