Sunday, October 19, 2003

Volunteers in the heart of the action

2,600 share their time and passion

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The boats might be there. And there might be some music.

But without the help of thousands of volunteers, Tall Stacks wouldn't be what it is today.

"The volunteers are really the heart of what you see here," said Judi Bailey of Springdale, the manager of volunteer check-in and supervisor services.

More than 650,000 people are expected to attend the five-day riverboat extravaganza. But Tall Stacks is armed with 2,600 of their own - 1,000 to assist with boat loading, 500 at Sawyertown, 200 for guest relations, 500 at the admission gates and 400 for volunteer support.

Those who give up their time for the sake of Tall Stacks do so because they are passionate about the event.

"I love everything about Tall Stacks, and this is the best way to see it," said Joyce Shaffer, 50, a volunteer supervisor from Sharonville. The Winton Woods Middle School librarian has been a volunteer at every Tall Stacks celebration. "You're right here in all the action."

Oakley resident John Mercer, 36, recently arrived home from a deployment as an Air Force reservist. Upon his return, one of the first calls he made was to Tall Stacks organizers - even though he had missed the volunteer sign-up deadline while he was away.

"I enjoy doing this so much," he said from his post at the golf cart corral. "I love being among the hustle and the bustle of it all."

The more than 400 costumed volunteers who promenade around the festival can also boast that they will appear in photo albums around the world.

"When we're in a crowd, we can't hardly move for a half an hour," said Shirley Suddeth, 61, of Anderson Township, outfitted in Southern belle attire. In the past few days, she has met - and been photographed with - people from as far away as France and Switzerland. "We (costumed volunteers) try to take the back way when we have to get somewhere fast."

Suddeth can be found in her ornate outfit at Tall Stacks for more than 12 hours a day, every day of the festival. In the morning, she greets the guests at the boats. In the afternoon, she spends time in the Kentucky encampment, explaining how people used to make soap and cook.

Volunteering in this capacity is her way of celebrating the area's rich heritage.

"There's no better way to be part of your community than to share the history of it with others," she said.

Her husband, Pete, is one of the new volunteers this year. He wears the costume of a Plains Indian, because he wants to teach others about that culture.

"People should have a greater appreciation of the Native Americans and their contributions," he said. "This is my way of getting that message to them."

Charlie Specter, 71, and wife Carol of Wyoming have volunteered at four of the five Tall Stacks. They believe helping others is it's own reward.

"We started out knowing nothing, but as people ask questions, we've learned all about Tall Stacks," he said. "By now I think I could answer anything."

The hardest question to date was asked a couple days ago, when a number of schoolchildren were seeking out picnic area No. 5. It took Specter most of the day to find it - the sign had blown down.

"But now, if somebody asks, I know exactly where it is," he said, laughing.

Countless other volunteers turn out to support their own favorite causes - like Joe Pitts, 36, of Deer Park.

Pitts was stationed over a scorching grill, flipping bratwurst, mettwurst and hotdogs for hours on Saturday, all to raise money for the Sycamore Senior Center.

"It's easy to do it when it's for something you care about," he said.


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