PORTLAND-Fall 2005. At first, it seemed like we were starting to work on the International Plowing Match (IPM) a long time before it was actually going to happen. There were still two years to go.
What was the big rush? Little did I know that there was so much to do, that indeed, we needed to start two years ahead of time. Committees had been formed and a time line had already been created-Fall 2004 all the way to Fall 2007. Some committees were already hard at work.
The chairperson of the Visitor/Volunteer Committee asked me if I wanted to help out with the Accommodations committee. My husband and I had talked about wanting to help out with the IPM when it came to our county, so I gladly accepted to help out. It was truly a once in a lifetime local event.
The Accommodations committee was in charge of making a list of all hotels, motels, B & Bs, inns, campgrounds and cottages in the Leeds and Grenville counties. After getting lists upon lists from tourist brochures, phone directories and township offices, we contacted each one of these businesses and asked them if they wanted to be included in our IPM 2007 Accommodations pamphlet. It was also a good way to confirm their phone number and their location.
Our pamphlet was ready for distribution at the IPM 2006, held near Peterborough. Some visitors book their accommodations at least one year ahead. As we know now, IPM has a big following. People attend the festival year after year to visit a new area of our beautiful province of Ontario. They reunite with their friends.
So once the Accommodations pamphlet was finished, I signed up with the Education committee. The director had a special job for me. "How about Lost Child/Person chairperson?" she asked me. Sure, how hard can that be?
Little did I know what that would entail! I needed at least 40 volunteers to help me. The IPM organizers had decided to have four comfort stations, one at each quadrant. That meant I needed between four to eight volunteers a day, depending if they wanted to work half or a full day. Times five days. . .
I contacted all my friends and acquaintances. I quickly ran out of friends and acquaintances. . .Would they know anyone who would come and help out? Mid-August, and I was still looking until one of my volunteers suggested I put an ad in the local church bulletins. And there was the answer to my prayers. In no time at all I had all my volunteers and then some. What a relief!
Each one of my volunteers had to go to the Rideau Lakes OPP office and get a police check. This is a standard practice in the voluntary sector when there are children involved. Everybody passed his or her check. And we were in business.
The week before, as we were setting up our displays in the education tents, the volunteers were in awe of the sheer size of the site. Every day, new tents and new exhibits arrived. The antique and historical area was filling up with beautiful cars, restored tractors and old farm machinery. It was amazing how much the site changed every day. And how noisy it was. . . power tools were working overtime. .
The adrenaline started to flow a little bit faster every day. Most of us would wake up during the night with a list of must do’s and must not forget’s. Would we be ready for September 18? Could we hope for five days of nice weather? Were they predicting rain? Would the people come? Would there be any lost children?
Finally September 18, 2007 arrived. It was warm and sunny for our opening day. And people came! And students came from all over the area! We were amazed at how many people there were on the first day.
Little did we know that there would be many more arriving in the following days! The nice hot weather continued all week long. And people kept on coming! And we kept on smiling!
Our first lost person was a husband. His wife had lost him somewhere around the tractors display and she could not find him after two hours of looking for him.
After a while, the OPP located him and contacted our team. In a golf cart, I drove the lady to the gate where her husband was waiting for her. She was so relieved—they live in a city and they were not used to being in the country. I advised them that next time they went somewhere; they should set a time and a meeting place should they get separated again.
We called that incident our trial run. Little did we know that many wives would lose their husbands throughout the week! Did the husbands get lost intentionally, we wondered? One wife told us not to call her husband over the PA system, because he would be too embarrassed. But where was he?
Every day, some ‘lost’ teenagers were reported late for the bus. Had they lost track of time? Yes. Did they have a watch? Oh yes. Oops! By the end of the week, we were advising the bus greeters and teachers to wait 10-15 minutes. The students usually showed up a few minutes late.
Things became more serious when we were called about a five-year-old child missing from her group. Her description went to the OPP immediately. My volunteers also had a description. Almost instantly, we were relieved to report that one of the site volunteers had taken the child to one of our comfort stations. A sigh of relief could be heard on the two-way radios.
Our bus greeters had done a great job of instructing the children that if they got lost or if they needed help, to go to one of the IPM gold vest volunteers. That little girl had listened very well to the instructions.
In the middle of the week, as I was having an early lunch, a description of a lost child came on the radio. I wrote down the details and as I was looking around, there was the lost child. He had made his way back to the buses’ entrance and he was going to make sure his bus did not leave without him. He could see his bus number so he knew he would get back to his school. Again, the two-way radios came in very handy and we could tell the parent volunteer that the child was found. Another big sigh of relief!
Since I was driving a golf cart from one comfort station to another, I was asked several times to drive some persons to their gates. The heat and ‘so much walking to see everything’ just proved to be too much for some. On Thursday afternoon, I was still taxiing after closing time. I had turned off my radio. Unbeknownst to me, the Education team chairperson was trying to locate me. She decided that I must be lost too. The next morning, several people asked me if I had been lost. The joke lasted for the rest of the week.
On Saturday, all of our family, including our three grandchildren attended the plowing match. One daughter showed up at one of the comfort stations and told my volunteer that she had lost her mother. She gave them my description and my name. On the two-way radio, comes the message that a mother is missing and her name was Michelle Vander Byl. Ha ha! And the joke continued. . .
On Saturday afternoon, when the gates closed, we were relieved because all our lost children and mothers and husbands and wives had been found safe and sound.
Most volunteers were functioning on only a few hours of sleep a night during the match. Our minds could not shut down. The adrenaline was going full blast.
But it was a lot of fun! I met so many people during the last few months while getting ready for this event. And I made many new friends. It was very exciting to be part of the 2007 IPM team.