One of the most special parts of gathering at the Wheatland Festival every year is welcoming those who are attending for the first time (whether Wheaties or babies) and bidding a fond farewell to those who are no longer with us.
While saying Hello and Goodbye virtually does not come close to comparing with sharing our joy and our grief with our Wheatland tribe in person, we’ll make do for now and look forward to being together again, admiring the babies and reminiscing about the folks we played a tune with, or camped with, in September.
Without a 2020 Festival Program book we decided to publish the 2020 Hellos and Goodbyes here. We are also accepting submissions for 2021. You can email the information to email@example.com.
Mom Ashley VanderLende and dad Michael Swartz welcome son Michael Thomas Anthony Swartz, born on June 27, 2021. Ashley wrote, “We are so excited to introduce him to this amazing festival.”
Proud parents Jason Sullivan and Nicole Snyder welcomed Easton Grey Sullivan into the world on April 23, 2021. Easton is loved by Great Grandparents Bill and Lola Tyler (WMO Executive Director) and Alice Balsis, Grandpa and Mimi Snyder and Papa and Grandma Sullivan. Nicole Snyder’s birth was in the 1998 Hellos and Goodbyes.
Keith Landgraf (grandpa) and Tyler Landgraf (dad), welcome Faith Elaine Landgraf, born on February 26, 2021.
Parents Kason and Kara Cook welcome their daughter, Alexandrea Rose Cook, born on January 26, 2021.
Becky Leefers wrote, “The Leefers Clan has another addition this year. Moses John Leefers was born on January 19, 2021 to parents John and Audre. Grandparents are Becky and Larry. Moses will join the Leefers Clan for their 34th year of attending the Festival.”
Sara Brown (mom), along with Erik Brown (dad), welcomed Wayne Earl Brown on December 14, 2020. Wayne is the great-grandson of Leonard and Diane Wernette, and the great-great-grandson of Nola and Patrick Wernette (Mark Wernette’s brother). Sara noted that Wayne is part of the fifth generation of her family to attend Wheatland.
Parents Ashley and Kevin Tarras welcome their son Desmond Tarras, born on November 23, 2020. Ashley and her family have attended Wheatland for the past 25 years, and Kevin has joined them for the last five Festivals.
Crystal Davis (mom) wrote that she, Bill Sheppard (father), and Charlotte Emerson (big sister) welcomed Elliette Marie Sheppard on May 28, 2020. Elliette is the youngest granddaughter of the late Willie Davis, for whom the First Aid area at Wheatland is named. Crystal wrote that Elliette’s family “is happy to finally show her off after a year and a half!”
Grandmother Sarah Methner would like to introduce Amina Icle Jaques, who was born on September 3, 2020. Amina will be a 4th generation Wheatland attendee. Her parents, Devin Jaques & Rebecca Smith, grandparents Sarah (Jaques) & Troy Methner, and great grandparents Nancy (Flom) & Mike Olson, have all been Wheatland Volunteers for many years in many areas. Due to COVID, Amina was not able to attend as a Wheatland baby, but she will enjoy everything that the generations before enjoyed for well over 40 years. Amina will surely be a volunteer someday, just like the rest of her family.
Auralia Grant was born to Jen and David Grant on October 18, 2019. Because of COVID, this will be her first year attending (Auralia was inside a very pregnant Mama during the 2019 festival). Her parents are SO excited to introduce this little Wheatie!
Cheryl Addington, Glen Voglesong's wife of 40 years, submitted a tribute to her husband, who died on June 22, 2021. Cheryl wrote, "Glenbob was fond of yelling ‘Bueno! Bueno!' up at the stage to show his appreciation for performances, and he saw most years of Wheatland between 1979 and the pandemic. Memorable Wheatland moments include meeting Johnny Gimble and smoking a joint with Carl Martin of Martin, Bogan & Armstrong while Martin was being interviewed by NPR. One of the best dancers to ever grace the Wheatland dance floor, Glen would tell YOU to get out there and enjoy yourself. In the words of the other Bob: ‘Here's to Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too / And to all the good people who travel with you / Here's to the hearts and the hands of the men / Who come with the dust and are gone with the wind.'"
Steve Briere shared memories of his friend Joe Smith, who died on May 29, 2021. In Steve's words, "Wheatland was Joe's favorite place on earth. Joe, whom we affectionately deemed Super Wheatie, volunteered as a member of grounds crew for three years, participated in Centennial Stage Open Mic, and each year brought his own gaggle of Wheaties to share in the excitement (11 being his own personal best). Like many of us, he looked forward to the festival each year more than his own birthday. Despite being a pit bull-toting, long-haired, motorcycle tough guy, Joe was so moved by the Spirit of Wheatland that he cried like a baby when it came time to pack up the van and head home after his first festival. For him it was a place where all his softness and goodness could shine. Joe so embodied the Spirit of Wheatland that his infectious joy has encouraged to his family to attend their very first festival this year. For the Port Huron Crew, Wheatland will never be the same without Joe, but we are confident that his boisterous laugh will forever mingle with the music that floats over the grounds."
Monica McGovern noted the passing of her sister-in-law, Teresa Kress (who died suddenly on April 20, 2021), and of her brother, Michael Kress (who died of brain cancer on June 22, 2021). Monica wrote that Mike and Teresa "had many friends in (the Wheatland) organization. We know that they were special to you all as they were to us."
Early Wheatland performer Chuck Wardrop wrote about his sister, Daneen Wardrop. In Chuck's words, "Daneen Wardrop, award-winning poet, celebrated educator, extraordinary mother, sister, and friend, graduated from this life on April 8, 2021. Daneen was one of Wheatland's first instigator/collaborators, scouting talent and performing on Wheatland's stages in those very early years. Her life was celebrated on September 4, at the Nature Center in Kalamazoo."
Keith Landgraf wrote that his wife Elaine Landgraf , who died on March 16, 2021, attended every Wheatland Festival between 1996 and 2019. Elaine was a Kids' Hill volunteer who loved Cajun music.
Dan Brandon wrote that his wife, Donna Brandon, passed away on March 11, 2021, after a short illness. Dan and Donna were both longtime Wheatlanders. As Dan put it, "Donna loved the music, the people the arts and crafts, and the entire atmosphere of Wheatland." Donna's daughter, Phoebe Hall, wrote, "We will miss (Donna's) smiile and her laugh."
Longtime friend of Wheatland Pamela "Peach" Burke noted that Sharon Peters, who worked in the Performer Recordings booth at Wheatland for many years, passed away on January 8, 2021. Peach described Sharon as "a beautiful, spunky, energetic and musically talented woman who will not soon be forgotten."
Patty Parkinson wrote about her beloved brother-in-law, Steven "Pete" Reynolds, who died suddenly on December 12, 2020. Pete was a festival goer for 33 years, and a volunteer for 15 of those years. In Patty's words, "Pete loved the Wheatland Festival! So much so that at the end of each one he would enthusiastically start strategizing for the next year's event (campsite improvements, menu ideas, how to be a better volunteer, etc.). He especially loved being with his family and friends enjoying the music and festivities together. Pete is deeply missed by his family and those who called him friend."
Linda Rogers wrote that Kris Murray Koenigsknecht, who died in December of 2020, "was a huge part of our Wheatland family since 1983." Kris' clan is deeply saddened by her passing.
Shannon Williams asks that we remember her friend, John Wagster, who died of cancer on October 15, 2020. John volunteered at the Wheatland Music Festival for several years. He enjoyed the music and loved camping at Wheatland. John made many friends and was able to work next to his coworker and good friend Eric Neumann. Shannon recalled that John "would relive the stories of Nurse Betty and all the crazy antics and fun they had at Wheatland. I can still hear him laughing to this day.
Amber Koa's longtime friend Beth Samul wrote that Amber died unexpectedly on September 29, 2020. After Beth introduced Amber to Wheatland in 2015, Beth said, "(Amber) always looked forward to Wheatland, saying it gave her the ability to just be calm, and soak in the emotions of the music and the peaceful energy of the crowd. She was not a religious person, but Sunday Morning Gospel Hour was her absolute favorite!"
Keith Howard wrote about his late wife, Leone Howard, who died on August 11, 2020. Keith said Leone "attended nearly every festival with friends and family since 1991. Leone absolutely loved Wheatland. She was an artist and loved shopping the craft booths. (Leone) loved playing her dulcimer at the slow jams. She loved the Rhythm Stage, the Kids Hill Stage, and especially the Cajun dances. But most of all, she loved spending time with her Wheatland family. Happy Wheatland, sweetheart."
Longtime Wheatland supporter Jo McLachlan submitted a tribute to Beth Ricker, who die on February 29, 2020. Jo wrote, "Beth was a very accomplished quilter, and during the early years of Wheatland Traditional Arts Weekend she attempted to teach many of us how to quilt. I would love to say that she was successful teaching us, but…I don't think so! After her death, Beth's sister returned the incomplete 25th year Wheatland quilt. We will have it finished and displayed for all to see. I remember Beth saying that she loved and believed in quilting, because it was cheaper than therapy!"
Lorna Scheid asked that we remember her husband, Jim Scheid, who died on November 28, 2019. Lorna said that Jim only missed two festivals, and that the Sunday Morning Gospel Hour was one of his favorite things about Wheatland.
Amber Thorne wrote about her friend, Curt Green, who died in April of 2019. Amber shared that Curt especially loved Hotmud Holler and the Main Stage.
Mona Bunting, longtime Performer Hospitality volunteer, passed away on December 29, 2020. For decades Mona worked alongside her husband Marvin (AKA Bud), son Marv Jr and son Mike (all of whom preceded her) to meet the needs of performers. Mona served coffee from her trailer and later from a big tent known as "Mona's Cafe." She will be missed by her many Wheatland friends and the Bunting family members who continue to volunteer, including daughter-in-law Deb and grandson Jeremy. Performers’ Hospitality volunteer Kasie Prevatt wrote, "On the farm, every Wheatland, as Mona greeted us all with the genuine love, gratitude and respect that her generation encouraged, we felt like we had arrived home, once again. The farm, the trees, the wildflowers, and we, are forever changed, having been in the presence of this beautiful, kind, and determined woman. Mona will be loved and missed by so many, for so long."
Local musician Verna Cornell died on December 18, 2020. She enjoyed attending the Wheatland’s monthly Jamborees held in the Cabin and donated one of her accordians to Wheatland’s instrument loan program. Verna’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have all been involved with Wheatland. Verna was featured in Wheatland’s 2000 "Sharing the Legacy" project that spotlighted elder artists from central Michigan.
Lynn Haworth-Crotzer shared a remembrance of her boyfriend, Joseph Benjamin, who died on December 3, 2020. Although Joseph only attended the Wheatland Festival once, in 2019, he volunteered his very first year, and he planned to be part of many more festivals. Lynn wrote that Joseph was "the love of my life", and that he was a "great dad and guitar player and instructor."
Jan Fowler, who called for dances at the Wheatland Festival and other Wheatland events (Traditional Arts Weekend, monthly dances, Wheatscouts) for nearly 40 years, died on October 26, 2020. According to her husband, Ron, some of Jan’s favorite things about Wheatland were leading Family Dances on the Dance Stage, experiencing the festival with her daughters, Jolene and Ella (and later grandkids), waltzing with Ron, and playing her piano during jams in the Performers’ Area (where Jan was famous for calling out, "One more time!"). Ron described the Wheatland Community as "our second family, with those friendships being some of the most important relationships in our lives."
With great sadness, we say goodbye to Brian "Senior" Schafer, MD. Senior passed away on September 9, 2020. He enthusiastically introduced traditional arts to family and friends in joyful song, playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, and bass by ear. His wife said, "He was the energy and center of our family circle. Through 20 years of attending Wheatland, he introduced generations of new Wheaties. Every year he excitedly looked through the festival program, so as to not miss a thing. He performed on the Centennial Stage and for hours at our campsite, amazing all who strolled by. Not only was he an accomplished cardiologist and generous Wheatland benefactor, he carried a deep sincere love for music. Music allowed Senior to showcase his soul, his drive, and zest for life."
Michael Pineda’s wife Sara Durbin said that Michael passed August 31, 2020. Michael attended Wheatland six years and loved his Wheatland family! And he loved the cajun dance!! He was like a kid at Christmas the night before Wheatland full of anticipation for what memories we would make!! His excitement was over the top for the blueberry pancakes on a stick. His celebration of life was at the house the Saturday of Wheatland.
Zach Fedus asked that we remember his grandfather, Rudolph "Andy" Fedus, who died on August 25, 2020. Andy played piano, guitar, banjo and fiddle, and attended the Wheatland Festival and other Michigan music festivals. At Wheatland, he could be found in his favorite camping spot, near the site decorated with MANY pink flamingos. Zach, who is the last member of his family to still attend Wheatland, recalls fondly dancing with his grandpa on the dance floor in the Main Stage seating area.
Wheatland Program Committee member Kent Blackmer noted the passing of Steve Gulley, who was a founding member of the bluegrass band Mountain Heart and performed with them at Wheatland in 2002. Steve died on August 18, 2020.
Jesse James Benham, who "loved the homegrown music best", died on June 29, 2020. James’ parents, Rick and Reta, wrote that he regularly attended the Wheatland Festival, starting when his mom was six months pregnant with him. James’ last festival was in 2019.
Longtime Wheatlander Martin "Lucky" Cates passed May 16, 2020. Sara Cates, his daughter said, "My dad Martin aka Lucky loved Wheatland for more than 40 years. His mother (the late Rosemary Miller) had volunteered at Wheatland since the beginning. He loved the drum circles, the dance classes and the Sunday morning worship at Main Stage gospel hour."
Friend "Banjo-Jim" Foerch wrote, "Rickey Novak passed away suddenly on April 29. He started attending the Festival, Wheatland Jamborees and Traditional Arts (TAW) in 1993. He was a walking library of the songs of the 50s – 60s folk rebellion and could be heard leading them with his guitar in jams at the Blue Water Rambler camp into the wee hours. Rick was also a writer of autobiographical, topical and humorous songs. For example, when heavy rains washed a coal ash dump away in 2008 in Tennessee, he wrote a hard-hitting song about our responsibility for the environment. When a friend shared her story of divorce involving a shotgun, he wrote the funny 'New Skylight Tonight'. Songwriters looked forward to Rick's 'Song Writing Challenge' at every Festival and TAW. We miss you, my friend. Hear his music with his best friend since 1962 on YouTube: 'Banjo-Jim and Rickey'."
Wheatland neighbor Ray Simon died on April 3, 2020. Ray and his late wife Ann raised 13 children together and were longtime supporters of the Wheatland Music Festival. According to Bruce Bauman, in the early days, Ray loaned Wheatland organizers his farm truck so they could haul the snow fence used to mark off sections of the festival site, and Ray and Ann also provided housing for festival performers. In this century, Ray (whose family farm was on Pierce Road) enjoyed watching the parade of festival-bound campers on Wheatland weekend.
Longtime Hiawatha Festival organizer and Wheatland volunteer Pearl Taylor died on March 10, 2020. Pearl worked in the Info Booth at Traditional Arts Weekend and the fall festival for over 20 years. Longtime Wheatland volunteer Chris Cotton described Pearl as "a force in the traditional music and dance world for as long as I can remember." Rick Good and his wife Sharon Leahy (another one from the Wheatland Legends category) wrote that Pearl "was like a character from some beloved nursery rhyme; a splash of vinegar and a spoonful of honey; an envoy of Mother Earth sent to help whomever, however she could." Yet another Wheatland Founder, Marcia Leclear wrote, "Our annual reaffirming family ritual Sunday night potluck, was Pearl 's gift of love to us. Her singular offerings of pots, pans, tablecloths, spices, her fresh ground coffee, baskets of veggies, fresh whitefish, her little folding table we could never open without her help, will be lingering talismans to us who were blessed to be her friends. She'll be on the bench with us Saturday night at the fest, leaning in."
John McIlvaine "Mac" Benford died on February 15, 2020. Mac played at Wheatland during the 1970s and 80s with the Highwoods Stringband (Mac shown far right) and the Uncles and the Footnotes, and during the 21st century with Fat City Stringband. Bruce Bauman, another Wheatland founder, expressed that Mac and the late Tommy Thompson (Red Clay Ramblers) "were the most influential banjo players to play on the Wheatland stage." Fellow banjo legend and frequent Wheatland performer Rick Good wrote about Mac, "Over the course of our nearly fifty-year friendship, Mac became family in the truest sense of the word. So numerous are the stories I could tell and so deep is my affection for him that I will simply repeat here the loving words of his son, Wade: When I grow up. I wanna be just like him."
Barry (Ed) Karcher joined the ancestors on Feb. 1, 2020. He attended the very first Wheatland festival east of Remus with his wife, Alice and two young daughters and attended most every festival since then. For several years Ed helped sell tickets and helped with setup and takedown chores. He was proud to call Gladys and Mark Wernette Aunt and Uncle, if only through marriage, and loved the farm and family dearly. Ed looked forward to Wheatland every year so that he could kick back and relax in the warmth of his Wheatland family.
Longtime Wheatland Board member and Jive at Five bassist Tom T. Ball wrote, "The Wheatland family lost a good friend and fabulous musician in Gene Harris when he passed away on January 4th, 2020. Gene and his supportive wife Eathyl lived in the Big Rapids area for over 50 years, which provided a base for Gene to tour the Midwest playing sax and occasionally singing.
He played in the big band "General Assembly", local favorites "Jive at Five", along with freelancing throughout the region. On a personal note, I’ll never forget the day Gene (always the snazzy dresser), walked into a Jive at Five swing dance workshop at Wheatland’s Traditional Arts weekend sporting a bright red dashiki. Gene pulled out his sax, finished the workshop with us, and at that point, we all realized we had found a new member of the band. We had some spectacular times with Gene; he set the tone for us musically, and definitely upped our fashion game! We all feel humbled and honored to have performed with such a talented and sweet man."
Carol Atkinson reported that her daughter Lori Rae Smalley, of St. Johns, died of esophageal cancer in January 2019. A vintage Wheatland Quilt was donated by Lori’s family in her memory. The quilt was constructed from several 1970’s Wheatland t-shirts. It was originally won by Lori’s mother, Carol Atkinson, at a Wheatland raffle; and was given to Lori as a birthday gift. Lori treasured it, and would be so proud that it is now part of the Wheatland Archives. Lori Smalley attended the Wheatland Festival for over 25 years with her husband Jimmy, her mother and many loving friends over the years. One of the 1st festivals Lori attended was in 1977 or 78, with a few St. Johns High School classmates. Life got in the way and she didn’t return to the fest again until 1991. She so loved meeting many new and old friends thru the years. She always recalled some of the best times occurred when she attended with friends on the "Bud Bus". Lori loved the bagpipes playing and always went in search of them. Seemed like she was good at seeking out the best of people and music at the festival. Some of her favs were Billy Strings and The Accidentals. She will be forever missed by Jimmy, her family and friends!
Janese (Finkler) Gorecki, was called to her heavenly home on December 1, 2019. She began attending Wheatland Music Festival in 1990 with her brother Dennis Finkler, who since passed in 1997. Janese really enjoyed the "Wheatland Way" - like how everyone is friends, but complete strangers and takes care of one another. She embraced the whole essence of Wheatland-camping under the trees and stars, walking around barefoot, dancing any second the music moved her, being introduced to so many new artists and styles of music. She came for a weekend of rest (while not getting much sleep) and relax (which didn’t happen because she was too much of social butterfly) and get to know people. She especially loved the weekend with family and loved to have her kids come with her, and recently, Grandkids. It became a whole new Wheatland to her when the Grandkids came because she was experiencing it through the kids eyes. Wheatland 2020 would not have been the same without you there Janese!
Frank Frayer died on December 1, 2019. His son Matthew wrote that Frank began attending the Wheatland Festival in the early 1980s and bringing his kids. Frank volunteered as a red shirt. Among his tasks as a volunteer was helping to assemble Centennial Stage. Matt said that, after he began bringing his own family to Wheatland, Frank "was always part of our group and loved sitting at Main Stage seeing the music."
Early Wheatland volunteer Wayne Crandall died on November 28, 2019. Pamela "Peach" Burke, a Wheatland founder, described Wayne as "one of a kind." He was an artist and designed and silkscreened the very first Wheatland t-shirts (from shirts volunteers all brought from home.)