Volunteer of the Week: Shirley Laylin

Published 9:36 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shirley Laylin, of Dowagiac, has volunteered with the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival for 23 years.

Occuring each May, the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival has risen to recognition as one of the best fine arts festivals in the country, backed by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, St. Deny’s Foundation, and other greatly appreciated sponsors. 2-13VOWProfile

Q: How did you get involved with the Dowagiac Fine Arts Festival?

I actually helped start the festival 23 years ago. A was with a friend from down south and we were having coffee. That year it was a beautiful year for Dogwood around here. She suggested that we needed a Dogwood Festival. I went back to the Chamber and told them about the idea of doing a festival, but let’s just not have a normal festival, let’s have a fine arts festival. They agreed.

Q: What do you do for the festival today?

I was on the board, but I just went off of it in June. However, I wrote the grant for them for the Michigan Council of the Arts this year. I’m also helping out with financial matters. I work in the background and am still on the storyteller committee.

Q: Why do you devote so much time to the festival?

It is a good thing for the city. We brought 15 sculptures to the city through the Dogwood. That is really something for a small city.

Q: Why is it important for people to volunteer?

It helps the community and the excitement of it all with more and more volunteers — there’s more people talking about it. It becomes a growing thing for the whole community.

Q: What are you looking forward to most about this year’s festival?

I think the wheelchair ballet. You have people in wheelchairs and people not in wheelchairs dancing. It is such an awesome thing to see. They also have classes for people who are in wheelchairs to teach them how to dance. That is just really something to see. It is very moving.

Q: Do you do any other volunteer work?

I do all kinds of things. I am in a paid position with the Methodist Church — I’ve been their treasurer for 30 years — but my husband and I sing in the choir. He is on the city council here in Dowagiac, so we are involved in so many things.

For more information about the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, visit the website dogwoodfinearts.org or call (269) 782-1115 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

This year’s festival, which begins May 9, features novelist Elizabeth Strout, classic rocker Mitch Ryder, storyteller Kim Weitkamp and a performance by the Dancing Wheels.