None of them had been born when the first Louisiana Country Colorfest was held.
But as the city’s biggest celebration marks its 34th year, they’re among the young people who are breathing life into the event — with the hope of maintaining that vibrancy for years to come.
Ashley Corbin, Jessica Stark and Kristal Pitzer don’t have to say how much they love Louisiana. It shows in the hours they and their helpers have put into offering something for the thousands of people who will flock to the downtown area Saturday, Oct. 20 and Sunday, Oct. 21.
"This town and everyone in it made me who I am," said the 21-year-old Corbin, who is overseeing Colorfest as executive director of the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce. "I have no complaints with the life I have. I want to be able to make that the case for everyone who lives here. I want them to love Louisiana as much as I do."
"I always knew I wanted this small town life with my husband and kids and to be able to give as much as I could back to our town," said Pitzer, 32, who is in charge of Saturday’s parade.
"I have moved around a lot, and living in Louisiana feels like home," added Stark, 29, who is handling the Kids’ Corner activities and entertainment. "Everywhere you go, you see a happy face that you know."
It’s no secret that many communities are struggling to keep longtime festivals going. Volunteering is a thankless task that brings few compliments and tons of complaints. Potential helpers are kept away by everything from job and family needs to time and liability concerns.
Corbin, Stark and Pitzer are not immune. They understand the stresses and headaches that go with balancing family, work and other responsibilities. However, the women have tapped into an unselfish spirit that transcends daily obligations.
It would be easy to say that Corbin is just doing the job she took in May and will leave in December for a return to college. While she’s getting real-world experience, her clear-cut devotion to community has led to questions about whether she’s shirking her education.
She isn’t, carrying a full-time 15 credit hours online through Missouri State University this semester. The buoyant organizer will return to Springfield in January, but wouldn’t dream of taking her foot off the gas pedal now.
"This time last year and this time next year, I will be back (at college)," she said. "But after seeing how much work goes into these events that most of us just expect to happen, I will never be able to not help out in some way."
Pitzer and her husband, Skyler, have six children ranging from three years old to one who’s in high school. She can’t pinpoint a specific source for her commitment, but it’s been part of her nature since she was a teenager.
"I do this because it’s important to me to be involved in our community," she said. "It’s important to me that my kids remember me being involved and, in turn, hopefully, want to do the same when they are older. And it is also a lot of fun, especially when you’re working with a group of girls like I am."
Stark and her husband, Brenton, have two children, and she works a full-time job, a part-time position, cleans two houses and sells boutique products. Stark handled events for young people at the Louisiana Bicentennial in July, so Colorfest Kids’ Corner is close to her heart.
"I absolutely love working in something that involves kids," she said. "Seeing the kids happy about everything brings me so much joy. I would love to do this kind of thing all the time."
Corbin points out that it takes all ages to make a difference, and she’s pleased that many with experience in community affairs have stepped up.
"If there is something that you do not think is going in the direction it should be, you have the opportunity to change that," she said. "If there is something in our community that bothers you, then that should be a sign that you care enough about it. So, act on it. Instead of tearing this town down with complaints, we need to be doing what we can to build it up."
New activities have been added to Colorfest. Call it youthful enthusiasm, but the three women are anxious to get things going.
"At the end of the day or the week, when I get to see how much the families enjoy all the work we put in, that’s all the motivation I need," Pitzer said.
"I want to see Colorfest continue because of the memories it can make," Stark added. "I know that a lot of families come from out of town, so it brings more people to Louisiana and attention to local businesses."
Corbin has come to understand that change happens slowly. A couple of ideas she had hoped to see implemented this year — a diverse selection of live music both days and people 21 and older being allowed to carry open containers of alcoholic beverages in the festival perimeter — did not come to pass.
"We have been taking some baby steps to changes," she said. "These things cannot just happen overnight. That’s a lesson I have learned."
While bigger cities have more people and a wider variety of activities, the flip side is they don’t have the kinship Louisiana offers.
Corbin says she loves "how everyone knows everyone and everything. Most people think that is annoying, but when you move away to a larger community, you don’t have that close-knit, hometown feel. Not everyone knows who your mom dated in high school and what your great -grandpa put in his coffee."
For the record, Corbin’s great-grandfather’s coffee contained…Oh, you’ll just have to ask her. The point is, smaller towns still have plenty of helping hands and great ideas.
"Of course, I always welcome suggestions," Stark said. "Community involvement is important to me, and that is the best way to have the community involved, I think. It is an amazing opportunity to meet people, make friends and local connections. I have personally met and made friends with so many wonderful people."
Just call the chamber at 573-754-5921, visit the website www.louisiana-mo.com or log on to the Facebook page.
"All you have to do is get involved," Corbin said. "We all can’t keep expecting these things to get better on their own. It is going to take our help."