Tracy Frank, Published November 19 2013
Her Voice: Volunteer helps community event for 20-plus years
WADENA, Minn. – Gwen Macklem has worked on the Wadena Area Christmas Festival for more than 20 years.
“I love Christmas,” she said. “It’s such a positive thing for the community. I love the vendors. It’s so uplifting.”
The festival started 38 years ago with performances by the cast of the Madhatters Story Players, the local theater group, said Macklem of Wadena. Some community members got together and decided it would be fun for local crafters and artists to give demonstrations of how they made their products.
It has grown from its humble beginnings into an annual two-day event that includes more than 90 vendors, crafters, artists and performers – even wassail, free carriage rides and a visit from Santa. The event draws thousands of people from throughout the area.
It has become an important part of the community, said Macklem, 79, who served as the festival’s treasurer for a number of years.
“People look forward to this,” she said. “The motels fill up. The businesses do well. Last year was one of the biggest for the businesses in town since this festival started. The restaurants are filled and people are bustling around. It goes from small town to big town real quick.”
The Wadena Chamber of Commerce has since taken over the event, but it still relies heavily on volunteers, said Macklem, who continues to help with the vendors with setting up and “anywhere else they need me.”
“Involvement and acceptance by the Wadena area community has been the key making the Festival a continued success,” she said. “It has been such a part of my life.”
Macklem grew up in Clara City. She lived in Pennsylvania and Colorado for a while before moving back to Minnesota following a divorce.
As a single mother of two children, Macklem took some courses in computers and accounting so she could find work.
She’s had a variety of jobs from accounting to working as a tobacco company representative. She also sold designer clothes out of a studio she had built in her basement to help her kids go through college, she said.
“I bounced around a lot, but I’m determined,” she said. Macklem has also done a lot of volunteering, something she continues to do through the Chamber, her church, and Tri-County Health Care, Wadena’s hospital.
She delivers meals at the hospital twice a month. While there, she spends time talking with patients or getting them something to read, she said.
“You make someone’s day,” she said. “It’s rewarding, it really is.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526
If you go
What: Wadena Area Christmas Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. Nov. 30 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sun., Dec. 1
Where: Wadena Deer Creek Elementary Gymnasium, 215 SW Colfax (Hwy 29) and Wadena Memorial Auditorium, 216 SW Dayton Ave.
Contact: Wadena Chamber of Commerce (218) 632-7704
Info: $1 admission per person