Editor’s Note: Community Builder is a periodic Q & A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today’s conversation is with Pat Blair, who has worked with the Storytelling Guild for 52 years and helped start the Children’s Festival.
Q: How did the Children’s Festival begin?
Pat: This year was the 52nd annual Children’s Festival. When my family moved here in 1964, there wasn’t anything for very young children. There were no kindergartens. If you could afford it, you could send your children to a private preschool and kindergarten. As a single-income family, one teacher, we couldn’t afford it, and so I was looking for things for our children. The first place I went was to the public library, because it has a wealth of things for families. Our children became regular attendees at story hour. The library announced, “We’re going to have a story program out at the Britt Park.”
My friend across the street was Lois Cousineau, who was an elementary teacher. Lois said, “Well, I need some help. Would you help me do some artwork?” I’ve always been confident in my artwork and so I said, “Sure. What do you need?” She said, “I need three billy goats and a troll, kind of life-sized. I want to do a story time at the story festival.” Lois said, “Well, since you’ve done that, why don’t you come out and see the story festival. Bring your kids.” So I did. I was immediately grabbed up in the whole thing. I loved it. I loved the response the children had to it. So in 1967, the Children’s Festival was born because it was needed.
Q: There must have been a need for a Children’s Festival to be around for 52 years.
Pat: There was a terrible need for it. Children’s Festival is an enrichment program for children and an education program for parents because it was a “see and do” kind of activity. The Children’s Festival is in early July. If you walked up the Britt hill and saw a hammer and nails, of course you want to try it out. There is tie-dying, candle making, rock art, puppetry. We offer pottery, clay building or wheel throwing, and the kids have never seen it, but they get to try it, and then they get to take home what they made. The best way for a child to learn is to introduce something to them and show them how it works, then offer them a chance to do it again.
Q: Whose idea was the Children’s Festival?
Pat: Jeannette Paulson was a real catalyst. She is the one who had the idea to have that summer program at Britt. She always tossed out these ideas and said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if …” and if you agreed with her, then you got to do it. Jeanette, Lois Cousineau, Gail Caperna, Sue Bates and Jody Pfiefer were the women who planned the first Children’s Festival, along with children’s librarian Myra Getchell. The Children’s Festival has been done in other areas, but they want to pay people to do it, and that doesn’t work.
Q: What is unique about the Children’s Festival?
Pat: The unique thing about it, it seems to me, is that it’s strictly volunteer. We’re not paying anybody. The volunteers come knowing that it’s a big dirty job, but someone has to do it. It’s a positive thing because they’re with children. You don’t hear a lot of cross people, people yelling. It doesn’t happen, because we all know we’re there for the same thing. It’s for the children, and that’s kind of my silent mantra. “It’s for the children.”
Q: How many kids do you think have attended over 50-plus years?
Pat: 200,000 kids and probably half as many volunteers. What I say … you know, in a rather smug and bragging way … we’ve got the best volunteer program in the state.
Q: Why has it grown and flourished here?
Pat: Well, it happens in other places, and it happens in a different way in other places. But I’m so proud and satisfied with what happens here, because it’s the people in Southern Oregon who all understand the same thing … it’s for the children. It’s for the betterment of your children and it costs very little to do if you’re willing to do your part.
Q: You were a children’s librarian. How do you get kids to read?
Pat: As a children’s librarian you try every trick in the book. The librarian needs to be the partner with the teacher. You can’t be didactic about it. If they say you must read, then that’s a chore. We say you get to read, and that’s a pleasure. We tried to make reading a pleasure. We’d do plays and puppets, special story times and all kinds of activities that create the fun part of it. While you’re doing the fun part of it you’re still reading, you’re still learning and you’re still ready when school starts in the fall because you’ve read all summer. That’s the whole point … being ready, always ready. Kids are such a challenge. They come with this innate need, and they need it filled every day with some new information, something that excites them. I remember one year when the summer reading program came out, I challenged your son, “Andrew, if you can read 100 books, I’ll buy you a pizza” … and he did … in the first couple of weeks! So I had to treat your family to pizza. If you can be that person who helps a young person to read, it’s really thrilling. I always got really excited if I could turn a kid on to a book.
Q: What about your artwork, Fred the Dragon and the posters for the Children’s Festival?
Pat: I had to learn how to experience art for the Children’s Festival the way kids look at it. Fred The Dragon is the mascot and logo for Children’s Festival. Way back, probably two or three years into Children’s Festival, we decided to have a medieval faire. Of course, there were dragons in the medieval times, so we had to have a dragon. The ones I knew about in books were fierce, with long teeth and long claws. They were gnarly and didn’t look very friendly at all. Well, my idea as the artist was to develop a dragon that was friendly. I couldn’t encroach on Puff the Magic Dragon because that was copyrighted. I couldn’t do Pete’s Dragon. I wanted a friendly, cute dragon that kids would like. That was my job, to develop a dragon that was recognizable because it was going to be our logo. In the first few years, the dragon looked different every year until I finally hit upon Fred. Just like a cartoonist, when I got that figure initiated and people accepted it, then that was Fred The Dragon. Fred is Fred is Fred … every year. No matter what he has on, no matter what he’s doing, you still recognize him as Fred. That was a big challenge. That took me 50 years.
Q: When did you arrive in the Rogue Valley and how has the Rogue Valley changed in the years you’ve lived here?
Pat: We came to the Northwest when Gary, my husband, was in the military. We immediately fell in love with the trees and the water. In my part of New Mexico, if you like beautiful blue and beige, perfect because that’s what color it is. When we came to the Northwest, it was beautiful and green everywhere you looked, and it had water. In New Mexico, the county I lived in there was not a body of water anywhere. It’s a matter of choices, and we chose the Northwest.
After Gary taught school in Artesia, New Mexico, for five years, we started sending out applications and heading toward the Northwest. We were headed to Washington, but the first place we stopped was Medford. They offered Gary a job right there. We stayed overnight. We had a picnic in Lithia Park and talked about it. We let the kids play and relax, and decided it was the place that we wanted to be. We had two children, they were 4 and 5, so it was a good time to move, settle down, start them in school and start living. It was a good decision as far as I’m concerned. I asked Gary not too long ago if he was ever sorry he moved here and he said no. This is where he wanted to be too.
Q: How has the Rogue Valley changed?
Pat: Well, it’s just gotten busier, crazier. The growing pains have happened in Medford. I think there is a distrust that’s happened in the last few years that was never there before. I never locked my doors. I felt safe. But now I lock my doors, and I’m sad about that. It was a good place to raise our children. I always felt comfortable knowing that they were all right.
Q: What’s become clearer to you recently?
Pat: That’s an easy answer. The answer is I know nothing, but I learn something every day. I think that’s the trick as you grow older. It’s to be receptive to that idea, because you don’t know it all and you never will know it all even though you might say you know it all.
Q: What do you want to learn in retirement?
Pat: I always said I wanted to retire and then just paint. I spent one whole year with a friend painting outside every Friday for an entire year. I have a lot of paintings stuck in the closet, under the bed, behind the couch and all over. I get to put my paintings on display here at Pioneer Village beginning next week.
I was an art major and thought I would be just a painter. My dad said ... wisely ... “you need to take something else in addition to your art, because I don’t think you’ll be able to make a living doing just art,” and he was right. But, it’s been a love of mine all this time.
Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.
Pat Blair Bio
Patricia Blair has worked with The Storytelling Guild for the past 52 years.
She has worked as a director, co-director, advisor and as the graphic artist for The Children’s Festival since she did their first graphics in 1967. She retired from Jackson County Library Services, where she served as children’s librarian, coordinator of children’s services, and coordinator of branch and outreach services over three decades.
Pat was the 1993 recipient of Children’s Services Division of the Oregon Library Association’s Evelyn Sibley Lampman Award and a Jefferson Award for Community Service in 2006.
After her retirement from the library, she and two partners owned and operated Hot Pots, a paint-your-own pottery place in downtown Medford. After selling Hot Pots, she taught watercolor classes in her home studio. She retired from teaching art in 2017 and moved into Pioneer Village in Jacksonville, where she now resides.