One Story committee reflects on successful year

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Organizers with the 2017 One Story program recently closed the cover on yet another successful year.

Late last month, the communitywide reading program capped this year’s slate of activities off in grand fashion with its second annual Epilogue Feast at the Pokagon Community Center in Dowagiac. Around 80 people attended the event, which featured a potluck dinner, live music and a presentation by Potawatomi botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Nearly a week after the event finished, members of the committee responsible for organizing this year’s One Story programing — which includes officials with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the City of Dowagiac, the Dowagiac Area History Museum, Southwestern Michigan College and the Dowagiac District Library — were still coming down from the excitement and energy they felt during the feast.

“It felt like one giant community potluck,” said Bobbie Jo Hartline, one of the committee members. “Everyone felt welcome, like they were at where they belonged.”

Besides serving as the capstone of a successful season of events, the committee wanted the Epilogue Feast to serve as a gift, as a way of saying “thank you” to the people who have supported the program, said Kristie Bussler, head organizer of the One Story program.

This year was the fourth rendition of the reading program, which was inspired by the national shared-reading program called the Big Read. People were asked to read two books: “Images of America: Dowagiac,” a photo essay collection about the city that co-authored by local museum director Steve Arseneau and former director Ann Thompson, as well as Webb Miller’s “I Found No Peace,” the autobiography of the famous Dowagiac native who traveled the globe as a reporter.

As with previous years, the committee organized several lectures and activities loosely tied to themes from the texts, as well as to this year’s overall theme of a “sense of place.”

Events included a presentation by Arseneau in which he shared stories from some of the museum’s old photos, an interactive game at the college that helped participants learn more about the Potawatomi language and a demonstration by Pokagon traditionalist Jefferson Ballew on how to light a traditional Potawatomi fire on the new green space outside the library.

All the program’s activities were well attended by young and old alike, Bussler said. For many of the visitors, the events were some of their first real experiences with Potawatomi culture, she added.

“We had a lot of native families come to learn more about their culture as well,” Ballew said. “Even the tribe doesn’t share these kinds of lessons all the time.”

With another successful year under their belts, the committee members are already brainstorming ideas for next year’s program. In fact, they already have a theme in mind — though they are keeping their cards close to their chest at the time being, Bussler said.

“It has an energy of its own now,” Bussler said.