Stephen Vance, Staff
For two decades, Marilyn Morris has served as Head Scarecrow for Meaford’s popular Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival, but this year the event will head into its 23rd edition without Morris leading the way, as she has decided it’s time for a well-deserved retirement.
During an interview at her home over coffee and baked goods, Morris introduced one of her successors – Donna Earl, who has been named Event Coordinator – and to reflect on her many years championing the Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival.
Morris is proud of what the event has become after more than 20 years.
“First of all, it is good for Meaford, it’s a catalyst that promotes our community, and I think the most exciting part of it is the buy-in by the volunteers, and the community itself – we identify ourselves as a scarecrow community,” said Morris. “Our sponsors have been remarkably generous and supportive.”
In order to stage such a large event, it takes more than just one person, and Morris has always placed the spotlight on the roughly 300 volunteers who help out each year, from building scarecrows, to decorating the town, to coordinating the many events that take place at the festival. Morris’s career experience prior to moving to Meaford helped her to be effective at rounding up those volunteers.
“A lot of my professional life was recruiting volunteers for leadership positions. My role was to recruit, train, supervise, so the Scarecrow Invasion matched my nature as my background is social work and it just made sense to me (to get involved),” Morris explained.
Given her obvious love for the event, it was a tough decision to step away, but Morris is confident that the event will be in good hands.
“I think that there are a lot of capable, interested, enthusiastic, skilled people in our community that first of all, participate, and secondly, can definitely replace me; I don’t see anyone as irreplaceable. I think it’s time to shift focus, it’s time to find new adventures,” she said.
Morris began laying the groundwork toward stepping away a couple of years ago when she confided in some members of her volunteer team that retirement was approaching, and the wheels were set in motion to find people to replace her.
She choked back tears as she reflected on her two decades’ involvement with the Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival, and the realization that this year, she will be a spectator.
“You can’t do this for as long as I have without feeling the passion, without caring so much, so it’s like taking a chunk of my heart. I don’t have any concern about the event, but I will miss the people. I won’t necessarily miss all the planning,” she laughed through her tears.
Though she hasn’t yet had time to reflect on the many highlights and achievements the event has seen over the years, Morris expressed pride that in 2011 the event was recognized with the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism in Ontario.
The June Callwood award for outstanding achievement for voluntarism recognizes leadership, innovation, and creativity in volunteerism and community service. June Callwood was a Canadian journalist, author, feminist, and community activist. Her life’s work reflected her strong conscience, sense of social justice, and the special attention she paid to issues affecting children and women.
“I’m still so busy being focused on the present, and helping Donna in particular move forward, I haven’t stopped to reflect on highlights over the years. The growth of the event itself has been astounding,” Morris said.
Those who love and attend the annual Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival are unlikely to notice the change at the top, as Earl said that she and the volunteer team are planning to build on the success of the first 22 years. Her biggest challenge in the coming months will be to familiarize herself with the various committees and to get to know the more than 300 volunteers who help make the event possible.
“I have a little trepidation, but I am excited about doing it. The Scarecrows are something I’ve always wanted to be involved in,” said Earl.
It might only be January, but work is already underway to get ready for this year’s event.
“We’ll be having our first executive meeting of the year this month, and shortly after we’re hoping to announce what this year’s theme will be,” Earl noted.
Asked what advice she has for the new event coordinator, Morris had one word of advice – “listen”.
“Don’t be afraid of new challenges, don’t be defensive, and work together with the volunteers, the sponsors, and the community, and it will continue to succeed – and have fun!,” Morris said.