Derryfest Back on Schedule for Sept. 19 at MacGregor Park

Derryfest will go forward Sept. 19 with a combination of experienced volunteers and the much-hoped- for new blood.
A volunteer meeting held Thursday, July 9 in the Opera House brought out about a dozen residents, most of whom committed themselves to one of eight “teams” or committees delineated by former Chairman Michael Gendron. The attendees included two Town Councilors, Chairman Tom Cardon and Mark Osborne.

The fall festival celebrating all things Derry was postponed to 2016 when Parks and Recreation Director Eric Bodenrader told the committee he could no longer provide support due to cuts to his overtime budget. Last week Town Administrator Galen Stearns brokered an agreement between the two parties in which the town will bill Derryfest for the services it provides. But Gendron said the festival was still threatened because three people had retired from the steering committee. The reduction in force prompted the committee to dissolve as a nonprofit and reorganize as part of the Derry Arts Council last year.

“The retirements last year left a void,” Mark Beland told the people at the July 9 volunteer meeting. “The Arts Council has taken them under our umbrella.”

Gendron said, “So much in this town happens because of volunteers. The more you get, the merrier it is and the more work gets done.”

Gendron sketched the history of Derryfest, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Barbara Ellingwood, one of the organizers, was “the face of Derryfest” for years. Cathy Goldthwaite, who retired last year, was the bookkeeper and in charge of vendor booths. Sean Ficara, also a recent retiree from the committee, did the electricity and “lining the field.”

Remaining volunteers are Chris Cox, who supervises Girl Scouts in running the children’s games portion of the festival, and Pat Pettingill, the sound technician. “People take sound for granted, but it’s exhausting just to watch him,” Gendron observed. Mark Berglund organizes Derry’s Got Talent, the variety show the night before Derryfest.

The teams are Vendor Booths, formerly chaired by Goldthwaite; Sponsorship Appeal, currently chaired by Gendron; Entertainment, currently done by Gendron, comprising both professional and local groups, the singing of the National Anthem to open the fair and “God Bless America” before the veterans’ service; Field Lining/Electricity; Transportation/Load-In; Publicity, currently done by Gendron; Children’s Games, Cox;  Website maintenance; and bookkeeping, formerly done by Goldthwaite. Gendron said the Arts Council will take over the bookkeeping this year.
The Arts Council will also provide telephone services, and Gendron said he expected to spend less on a headline act. “Last year we got Beatlejuice because it was our 25th, and they were expensive,” he said.

There will be a need to court more sponsors, he said, because of the deal worked with the town to pay for Parks and Recreation services.

Gendron reiterated that the decision to postpone Derryfest was not his alone, but also “Mark, Mark, Pat and Chris. It wasn’t political – our backs were against the wall.”

“How many booths are there?” State Rep. David Milz asked.

Gendron said he has received registrations for 34, but that Derryfest usually has 100, from commercial operations to crafters to local nonprofits. “I’m not too concerned,” he said. “Some of them were holding back, but they’ll commit now that they know Derryfest is back on.”

Commercial vendors pay $90 per space; crafters, $50; nonprofits, $25; and political organizations, $150. They used to charge the politicians the same as nonprofits, Gendron said, until they realized it was “getting out of hand.” “Several people drove by and said all they could see were political signs. We want it to be a fall community event for Derry,” he said.

Gendron said he maintains a running vendor list and letters should be sent out to everyone on the list, except for the 34 who have already replied.

The sponsor letters are sent out in mid-July, he said. There are three sponsorship levels: Full, at $600 for the first year, which includes a prominently-placed banner, and $500 if they return; Co-sponsor, $350, includes a banner, $300 if they return; and Patron, mention in the Web site and newspapers. The banners technically belong to the sponsors, “but we store them for them,” Gendron said.

A full sponsor can also choose to sponsor a specific event, Gendron said.

He listed the things that need to be done as soon as possible: the mailing to the booth vendors and the sponsorship appeals. But after 10 years with the festival, Gendron has templates for the letters, and systems for everything.

Gendron passed around a sign-up sheet and the initial teams will include: Vendor booths, Gloria Bingel and Charles George; Sponsorship appeal, Jenn Lague and Jodi Nelson; Children’s Games, Chris Cox and Jenna Paradise; and Transportation, Tom Cardon and Frank Sapareto. Gendron said he can handle Entertainment for one more year, and he has a person he’s working with for the electricity and field striping.

He still needs someone for publicity, he said.

Gendron and Beland said they were pleased with the response. Though they received many e-mails from people offering help, they said they wanted to make sure potential volunteers realize the time commitment.
“It’s not the kind of thing where you show up and volunteer,” Gendron said. “It’s a time commitment from mid-March to September. I compare it to the biggest wedding you will ever plan.”