Back in 1978, George Abele was in a Boy Scout troop that had been put in charge of one of the children's activities at that year's Corvallis Fall Festival: The troop was to supervise children working with wooden sculptures — think of them essentially as gigantic Lincoln Logs.
Abele was younger then, just 12, and the festival itself was younger as well, marking its fifth edition. But it's not an exaggeration to say that Abele, now 51, has aged right along with the festival: He has volunteered at the arts-and-music gathering every year since then. This weekend, as the Fall Festival celebrates its 45th year, Abele will be volunteering for the 40th year.
Abele gives the credit to his parents and grandparents: "They instilled in us the thought of giving back to your community, starting at an early age," he said this week. And in that light, getting involved with the Fall Festival made sense: "I love the arts," he said.
That wooden sculpture activity has since retired, although Abele said if a supplier for those particular toys could be found, he'd love to see it return. But Abele himself over the years has tackled just about every volunteer position the festival offers. Before the festival opens this weekend, he and others will carefully be measuring out the booths where the festival's 160 artisans will set up their displays. In the past, he's worked with the food booths that will set up for the weekend along Monroe Avenue and tackled a variety of other festival chores.
He particularly loves working in the festival's arts discovery zone for children: "I enjoy working with the children and seeing their faces light up when they work on an art project," he said.
Abele, who works as the property manager and controller for Rubicon Investments, has a long resume of volunteer activities in Corvallis: He serves on the Benton County Fair Board, works with the annual Celebrate Corvallis event and is involved with the Corvallis Jaycees, the Oregon Jaycees Foundation and the Vina Moses Center, among others. But he confesses to having a soft spot for the Fall Festival, which he said ranks among his favorite events of the year.
Not even the occasional bout of nasty weather can dampen his enthusiasm for the festival, although it makes for memorable moments: The 2013 festival, which was cut short by what Abele called a "typhoon," is a vivid memory, as is the 1981 event, when 2 inches of rain "basically turned Central Park into a big mud pile. But folks still turned out and the artists did very well."
Abele himself has been known to make the occasional purchase from the festival's artisans: In fact, he said, for him, the festival marks "the start of the Christmas shopping season."
That sort of commitment from volunteers is an essential ingredient to the success of the Fall Festival, said Christine Hackenbruck, the event's executive director. "I don't know what we would do without (George) and without so many of these volunteers," she said. Many of the 100 or so volunteers who help put on the festival return from year to year — and, in fact, carry a good deal of the festival's institutional memory.
This year's festival features 160 artists, including 50 newcomers, representing 11 different media. Hackenbruck has made a point of bringing new artists into the juried festival each year, and also has worked to increase the different types of art represented. These days, artists pay a straight fee (generally $395) to participate instead of paying a percentage of their weekend sales; it's an arrangement that has worked well for everyone, Hackenbruck said.
This year's festival features an expanded area for bicycle parking, in the lot next to The Arts Center. The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition will be offering valet parking services for bikes.
And this festival, Hackenbruck's fifth, will be her last as executive director: She's accepted a full-time job as director of marketing at Ashbrook Independent School. Deb Curtis, recently retired from the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department, has been hired as the festival's new director.
But even as she moves on, Hackenbruck retains her affection for the event: "I just love it," she said. "I still love it, even after doing it. I love being there. I love talking to everyone. ... I live three blocks away from Central Park. I'm still going to come."