BELDING — The current fate of the signature summer event in downtown Belding now rests in the hands of the unknown after members of the Belding Labor Day Homecoming Board and Committee chose to disband after the group’s October meeting.
Committee Chairman Mike Tefft quelled all rumors during last week’s Belding City Council meeting when he chose to address members of the city council personally.
“I came here tonight just to listen knowing something was going to be mentioned about Labor Day,” Tefft said at the Nov. 20 meeting. “We feel very strongly that the Labor Day (festival) will continue, but nevertheless, the board that was in place this year and many years past has all agreed that it is time to move on with our lives and do something different.”
According to Tefft, the decision for all six board members and approximately 12 total committee members to step down was a mutual decision that arrived after a shared sentiment to “pass the torch” to another group of volunteers was nearly unanimously expressed during the group’s Oct. 17 meeting.
“It was based upon many things,” Tefft said. “The volunteers are very busy people and some of us have been doing this for many years and are now moving in different directions. This was one of the smaller groups we’ve had in recent years. When you lack in bodies it makes it harder on the people who are there.”
Tefft also pointed to a rough economy over recent years, something he said has led to a shortage in funds.
“The event has been losing money and membership is way down,” he said. “Something needs to happen. Do I think it will continue to go on? Absolutely. I just think it’s time for some change and it has to happen sooner than later.”
Tefft said he believes the previous group has left things in a good place for a new group to take over and “carry the torch forward.”
“If you just take it easy, let it settle, let it sink in, you’ll see that this committee has set this up to succeed, not to fail,” he said. “No one is closing any doors.”
Belding City Manager Randy DeBruine said a new group of volunteers will have to come forward to take the reins, adding that a couple of leaders would hopefully emerge from that group as well.
“We are looking for a new group of volunteers to step up to the plate,” DeBruine said. “Among those new volunteers, a leader or two would need to be willing to take this on.”
According to DeBruine, the Labor Day Homecoming Committee and its six board members are a separate entity from the city and are not considered a city board or commission, something DeBruine said he hopes remains intact.
“We want to keep it as a separate group,” he said. “The city provides the police, fire and Department of Public Works, as well as a cash contribution for the fireworks show, but that is it. The freedom is there for the group to pretty much run the event as they choose, with approval from the city. We want to keep the ingenuity of the event separate from the city.”
DeBruine said he is hopeful a new group of volunteers will come forward in time for the group’s first regular meeting of 2013 on the third Wednesday of January.
“The city wants to see it succeed,” he said.
Anyone interested in joining the Labor Day Homecoming Committee can can call City Clerk Kareen Thomas at (616) 794-1900 ext. 210 or DeBruine at (616) 794-4800.
Despite their departure from the group, Tefft said he and other committee members are willing to assist new volunteers with any help that may be needed.
“In the 107 years that this thing has went on it has always been put on by volunteers,” he said. “Volunteers have stepped up to the existing committee and wanted to be a part of it and that needs to continue.”
Tefft said he hopes to communicate directly with anyone willing to step up to the task.
“I would like to talk with them for the simple reason that it takes somebody with a heart that wants to do this,” he said. “Does that mean whoever steps up is going to keep everything the same? Absolutely not.”
During the Nov. 20 meeting, Mayor Ron Gunderson thanked Tefft and every other volunteer who has worked over the past 12 years with Tefft for their years of effort to make the festival a success.
“”Mike, I’d like to thank you and your Labor Day committee for what you have done in the past,” he said. “Hopefully this transition will be a fluid transition and it will be a win-win for the residents and the city.”
For Tefft, the decision to step down and attend the event as a spectator will be bittersweet.
“I’ve grown up with this event my entire life and I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a Labor Day in the community of Belding,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to attend because it has meant so much to me over the years. It has been an awesome experience.”