Lily Parker blossoms as Black Swamp Arts Festival volunteer


BG Independent News

When a 9-year-old Lily Parker first showed up to volunteer at the Black Swamp Arts Festival, Bill Donnelly, who coordinates artist hospitality, sent her out with an adult to deliver water to exhibitors.

Twenty minutes later, he said, she was back. “I was glad she had lasted that long.”

Little did he know that this was just the start. The 14-year-old Bowling Green High School freshman has continued to volunteer at the festival – and for other community events.

Donnelly said that first year: “At Lily’s suggestion, they loaded coffee vats, PB&J, bread and silverware onto the … delivery wagon and rolled back out with their hospitality upgrade. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. … Lily has been a go-to volunteer for me for six years. I admire her initiative and hard work, her character, and her passion for the festival.”

That passion has been passed down to her through her family. Her grandfather Tom McLaughlin Sr. exhibited in the first show and chaired the visual arts committee during the early years. Both her mother, Penny Parker, and her father, Tom McLaughlin Jr., were volunteers. Her father, who died earlier this year, was a stalwart on the performing arts committee, and a regular presence backstage.

Lily said it will be hard this year without him there. She shows a photo on her phone with her and her father and music legend Richie Havens backstage in 2006.

Lily’s stepfather, Dave Shaffer, chairs the festival committee.

“This is something I always really liked doing,” she said.

She’s one of about 1,000 volunteers it takes to stage the annual event. The festival depends on people to assist with every aspect. Those wishing to volunteer should visit:

How much will Lily work festival weekend, Sept. 9-11? “Probably as much as I can, as much as they need me.”

She expects on Friday she’ll head out with Donnelly to do shopping to stock the hospitality area for artists with fruit and baked goods. Then at 5 a.m. Saturday she’ll join the Dawn Patrol, those volunteers up before dawn to transform Main Street in downtown Bowling Green into an art show and youth arts area.

Artists start showing up right away for a little caffeine and sustenance to help fuel their efforts to set up shop on the street. Then throughout the weekend Lily will help coordinate the delivery of water to artists.

Lily remembers her early forays delivering water with her buddy Gretchen Shope. They were shy at first, neither wanting to be the one to approach the artists. In time both wanted to be the one talking to the exhibitors.

This hospitality is much appreciated by those who show their work. Artists frequently comment on how much they appreciate the hospitality services. While sales determine what shows an artist will exhibit at, such niceties do put the Black Swamp fest in a good light.

Over the years, Lily hasn’t just worked. She’s enjoyed the extensive Youth Arts area, and after her shifts she’s listened to the musical acts.

This year she will be on a team of artists from Bowling Green High School participating in the Chalk-Walk competition.

In the future, she interested in volunteering on as many committees as possible. She even likes picking up trash.

The festival just wouldn’t be the same for her if she didn’t have such an active role, Lily said. “It’s my favorite time of the year. I think about it the whole year. It makes me feel like I’m important and needed and grown up, but still a kid.”

Given how much she likes working at the festival, and in past years at events such as the Classics on Main and the Farmers Market, she’s considering making event planning a career. Bowling Green State University has a program that she’s interested in.

And as she takes on more duties and responsibilities at the Black Swamp Arts Festival she thinks that maybe in the future she’d like to step up and chair the whole event.