This week, a new person started work with us in downtown Three Rivers through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Meritt Dickerson-Weed has a reputation for hard work, respectfulness, and dedication. She is a graduate of Three Rivers High School, has worked downtown at Lowry’s books, and has been an active volunteer in a number of community initiatives. She will be with our program for a year, and will work to help our volunteer program to be as robust as possible. I think that she represents a lot of things that are good about this town, and we are lucky to have her.
On her first day, we discussed work expectations, her experience, and the reason she wanted to be involved: that she wants to help her community thrive. We also talked a little bit about how Three Rivers fits a bigger picture: how does Three Rivers look from the outside? What really sets us apart? I’ve talked here before about out historic downtown, our rivers and lakes, our parks, and the people whose time, sweat and money spent on Main Street have begun showing some great results. On top of those things, we’ve got some of the best produce I’ve ever had, a fantastic arts community, gentle rolling hills, four seasons, and some great people who really like to get outside. These things combine to make Three Rivers like no other place.
However, one of the events that really sets us apart is HarmonyFest, which will occur for the 24th time this Sunday, September 3rd. City leaders started it in the 1990s for several reasons: to promote downtown activity and create an event for a slow season. Most compelling, though was a desire to promote mutual respect among an increasingly diverse population. They decided to do so through a simple act: by providing an afternoon when people could come together on Main Street and enjoy great music.
With so many things driving tension between people in this month’s news cycle, I can think of few other things that resonate so positively. In following the news from places like Charlottesville, I have read many different views—some respectful, some urgent, and some angry.
In weighing it all, I find confidence in at least one thing: I am proud to be in Three Rivers. I know a lot of people here who do not see eye to eye on many things. They come from different backgrounds of race, religion, economics, political views, and much more. Sometimes they argue, and at the level of local politics, sometimes those arguments take unproductive forms. However, even the angriest people seem to want what’s best for Three Rivers. By and large, in this town, I see people who accomplish things collaboratively, who can engage in dialogue whenever it’s necessary, and who will share a meal with no hard feelings. That’s a big deal. As I’ve said before, respectful relationships produce results.
There are things happening here that will serve our community well for the long-term. I am glad for the library’s decision to move ahead with the Southern Michigan Bank & Trust building, which I think will immeasurably benefit their institution and our community alike. I am glad that, through a service program like VISTA, we can bring someone on board who knows our town, loves it, and is ready to do her part. This Friday, during our “Paint the Town Purple” event, members of the Wildcat community and the public will come out to make pro-team signs and decorate downtown for Homecoming two weeks later. I’m glad for that kind of spirit.
However, I am also glad to live in a place that is not ashamed to be what it is. Three Rivers is the rust belt: a place where many different people who work with their hands value integrity– perhaps because the work can be so hard, or maybe just because doing the right thing matters. I’ve seen it in the long run, and I’ve seen it recently—even where it has taken a while. If we’ve met here in Three Rivers, then I am probably glad to know you. I’ve seen the kind of spirit we all can have, and I like that this place is capable of representing positivity, hard work, and integrity even when things are rough.
Regarding anything coming out of this month’s news cycle, I believe we can count on Three Rivers to do the right thing: I even think, maybe because of the spirit that so many people here embody, that it’s no big deal for us. We come together when it is most difficult, and therefore most necessary, and we don’t do much backing down from what is right and what is respectful.
So, your challenge this weekend is an easy one: HarmonyFest is here. We’ve got seven great acts covering everything from blues and gospel to rockabilly and bluegrass, and the music is free. There’s a downright classy beer garden, a variety of craft and food vendors, some great new downtown eateries, and a collection of kids’ activities. There’s no message to fight over – just a good time to be had. I’m looking forward to enjoying a beautiful night in our downtown with my fellow lovers of Three Rivers. I hope you’ll be there enjoying it too.
Submitted by: Dave Vago, Executive Director of the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program. He spent summers growing up in Three Rivers, and has worked in the business of making great old places socially and commercially viable.