If things had gone according to plan, the Village of Shepherd would be kicking off its 62nd annual Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival today. Banners would have been hung, rides for the carnival would have arrived, and I would be answering questions from the public via email and Facebook. Usually, it would be the beginning of my crazy, four day-long marathon of photography and mass communications. My wife often laments that this is the weekend where my family barely sees me because I am constantly on the go.

Unfortunately, this year the Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival, like many events this spring, needed to be cancelled because of the threat of the COVID19 outbreak and the state’s stay-at-home orders. As the public relations chair and a voting member of the festival committee, the decision to cancel the festival this year was difficult to make, even though it felt necessary. I’ve often hoped my contributions to the festival allowed me to play a little part in the Village of Shepherd’s history, but I never dreamed that we would face the choice of not holding it.

On a personal level, I had been looking forward to the chance this year to take my son, Josh, out during the festival events, and maybe do some garage saling. Last year, Josh was at the Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids, and my wife was staying with him. He had just started physical rehabilitation. This was the first time since we started attending the festival that we did not attend at least one of the events as a family. Since that weekend a year ago, Josh has completed rehabilitation and is now able to walk with a cane, and has also finished a round of chemotherapy. In January, he returned to school and was continuing outpatient physical therapy. Life was beginning to feel more normal for us, and the festival would have been another milestone on Josh’s road to recovery.

As a volunteer, I’ve often joked that I work harder during the festival than I did for my job. That’s because the festival challenged me in ways that my day job seldomly did. I took photographs, live streamed previews of events, recorded conversations with participants, and one year even captured the moment when someone was reunited with their lost class ring. As a one-man PR team, I often needed to do a lot of running from one event to another, and I continued to do so even after I added a few more people to the team.

My favorite events to photograph are the 5K Run, the two parades, the Classic Car Show, the petting zoo, pancake making, and the Quilt Show. I also try to make a point of visiting Shepherd’s three museums. My favorite location for photos is the Little Red Schoolhouse, and have made it a point of taking a picture of my kids there each year.

But, what I will miss the most about the festival is how much the village would come alive during the weekend. On the surface, the festival was about eating pancakes drenched with syrup, but if you looked a little deeper it was as much about bringing people together for a few days to get connected and have a little fun. And, I’ve always felt privileged to be a part of an event that accomplished so much.

If there is anything I’ve learned from the past year, it is that the best thing one can do when life throws you a curveball is to find the things you can control, and stay focussed on them. And, to remain as positive as possible. Whatever happens over the next few months, life will eventually return to some kind of normal, and the Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival will return. We have an opportunity now to build on the plans we started for this year, so that the next Festival is better than ever.

What will you miss the most about the festival this year? Respond in the comments or email your thoughts to editor@midmichiganjournal.com.

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