Dogwood event returns to roots for 20th anniversary

Published 10:19 am Thursday, April 30, 2015

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

One of the Dogwood Festival’s most unique events will be turning the clock back a hundred years or so next month.

The Dogwood Tea will be returning to its roots as it celebrates its 20th anniversary at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 9. Held in past years at Southwestern Michigan College, the longtime fundraising event will again be held inside the stone-covered confines of one of Dowagiac’s most historic structures, The Maples, commonly referred to as the Gardner Mansion.

This year’s program, “You Rang, Madam,” will feature live music and reenactments of what life was like in the grand mansion after it was built near the turn of the 20th Century, with tables situated in the residence’s main hall, front and back parlors, and dining room area. In addition to three servings of tea served throughout the two-hour event, visitors will also be served scones, cookies, pastries and sandwiches.

Owned and maintained by Linda and William Lorenz, the over-century old Maples mansion has been nearly completely restored to what it looked like when occupied by the Gardner family, with Victorian-era antiques, furniture and decorations lining the three-story structure, said Nancy Pallas, the chair of the Tea Committee.

“They [the guests] will be stepping back in time,” Pallas said.

The historic residence served as the host of the first two Dogwood Teas, in 1995 and 1996. Created as a fundraiser for the then-fledging fine arts celebration, the Tea offered visitors a chance to socialize over three servings of exquisite tea and traditional teatime snacks, while enjoying a special fashion show consisting of outfits based on designs popular during the 1800s.

The popularity the event eventually outgrew the confines of the mansion, so organizers relocated to the campus of Southwestern Michigan College beginning in 1997, where they switched the theme up from old Victorian-era teas and entertainment to one based on Japanese culture.

Since then, the committee has came up with a variety of different programs for visitors to enjoy, mainly consisting of one-hour plays and musicals written exclusively for the event, Pallas said.

“We like to change things up,” she said. “We don’t want it to be the same thing every year.”

After taking a year off in 2013, the Tea Committee collaborated with another group of Dogwood organizers, the Visual Arts Committee, for last year’s program, entitled “Art Comes to Tea.”

In light of this year’s anniversary, organizers made the decision to move the event back to the venue where it got its start.

With many patrons excited to see the mansion, either again or for the first time, the event has already sold out, with 70 people making reservations, Pallas said.

“We’re really thrilled about that,” she said. “It reinforces that there is an interest in the community for this event.”

People wishing to be added to the event’s wait list can do so by calling the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival office at (269) 782-1115, (866) 490-2847 or by visiting Tickets cost $18.