Weather Forecast


In the Know: The hidden benefits of small-town festivals

By John R. Stone, former Glenwood mayor (2003-2010)and former

publisher/owner of the Pope County Tribune and Starbuck Times.

Editor’s note: The Echo Press is excited to debut a new rotating column for the Opinion page called, “In the Know.” The writers are well-known within the community and will be sharing interesting information about their fields of expertise.

Most of you have heard of Glenwood Waterama. It’s Glenwood’s summer festival, an event that has been going on for 59 years. And it is coming up this weekend.

Many communities have their summer festivals. Some look at them as tourist attractions. Some look at them as a time to get together on a community project. Some look at them as a chance to show off their communities. All are good reasons.

But there can be a greater benefit that may be more important that people don’t think about: community leadership development.

Festivals give folks a chance to work with others, accept responsibility, work on planning, show leadership as committee chairs or overall event chair and get to understand community leadership structures, since very little with such celebrations goes on without cooperation from a community’s governmental unit.

One of the reasons Glenwood Waterama has survived the roller coaster of ups and downs community celebrations face is its leadership structure. The “brass” (admiral, commodore and vice-commodore) represent a three-year cycle in the top leadership posts for the event. Each position, starting with vice-commodore, has specific duties designed to give that person experience to be the admiral.

Most committees operate the same way: a person makes a three-year commitment and works his or her way up the ladder to become chair. Some then move off into the three-year cycle for overall leadership.

The process does a great job of getting people, especially young people or those new to the community, to know each other.

Over the years, I know of at least four Glenwood mayors who served as admiral of Waterama prior to becoming mayor. Our current mayor is a former admiral. Others have served on the city commission or other city or county positions of responsibility.

The new vice-commodore of Waterama is unveiled at the end of Sunday night’s coronation ceremony and it has people guessing almost as much as who the queen was going to be prior to the coronation.

Usually, members of the brass and their families become quite close. They spend a lot of time together going to parades and conducting meetings. They also become close to the queens and juniors queens and families of the queens who also go to parades. Lifelong friendships are created.

One year, tragedy struck when a member of the brass died in a tragic accident weeks before Waterama. People stepped forward, filled the empty spot and the show went on.

Another year, there were budget issues with Waterama ending up in the red, quite a bit in the red. The following year, as luck would have it, enough rain fell prior to the Sunday parade to trigger the parade’s rain insurance and the budget deficit was wiped out. Miracles do happen!

Waterama’s 59th event starts later this week and ends with coronation Sunday night. Details are available at

While there will be a lot going on this weekend, the important part to me will be that a lot of people will be getting to know others and developing leadership skills we will benefit from for years to come.

As you look at your community and its celebration(s), think about getting involved! Help is always needed! And you might make some new friends and find some new challenges to boot.