Meridian Star

March 4, 2013

Star of the Week: Amanda Reece

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     A little over two years ago Amanda Reece was sitting in a room waiting nervously as a decision as to whether she would be the next director of the Newton Chamber of Commerce was being made.

    Reece thought maybe she was a little too young for the job. Afterall, she had not long graduated from high school in 2008. But she wanted this position so bad and she had poured her heart and soul into being the next director. So it was no surprise to her that when she was told she had gotten the job, the emotions began pouring out.

    "I cried," Reece said with a smile on her face. "I'm still not sure how I got the job but I have put so much into it since that I hope I have justified the decision."

    Now, as she watched her third Loose Caboose Festival in Newton roll on a cold, windy day, Reece has come to realize she was meant to do this sort of job. It is one that despite waking up at 4 a.m. Saturday and seeing the temperatures still hovering around freezing, she still had a great deal of energy and excitement.

    "I want to make a difference and as the director of the chamber of commerce I believe I can do that," Reece said. "I wake up every day and thank God I have this opportunity. I dearly love this job."

    Reece actually wears two hats, one as director of the chamber and the other as the head of the tourism board. Both, she said, are important in that she is trying to get people to move their business to Newton or to come and spend time and money in the area to boost the economy.

    Reece said this third installment of the Loose Caboose Festival she has been in charge of, the tenth in the town's history, has been made all the more special because the vendors she has gotten to know now are veterans of festivals and carnivals. She said these are good people who help her as much as she helps them. There is a lot of communication between them that goes a long way in making a festival a successful one.

    "Do I wish the weather was better? Sure. But you can't do anything about that. That is what happens when you have a festival this time of year. But the vendors have done festivals in all sorts of weather so they are flexible," Reece said.

    In the past, the Loose Caboose Festival hosted packed crowds in the thousands. Festivals in the South are well attended as fans come to hear the entertainment, taste the variety of festival foods and to mingle with friends and family among all the arts and crafts booths. Festivals are a big part of small town living.

    The preparation for the annual festival usually begins in December, said Reece. She laughs when she admits that maybe she should start a little earlier but she has developed a system in which the vendors are accustomed. They know, as she does, the spring festival season will be approaching soon and given the turnouts normally enjoyed with the Loose Caboose, Reece doesn't have to deal with a shortage of vendors who want to kick off the season.

    "I was having to turn some vendors away because we just didn't have the space," Reece said. "I hate it for them because they want to come but it is a good problem to have when the spaces are in such demand. We appreciate their patronage and support."

    Reece booked for paid entertainment this year in the form of an Elvis impersonator and other acts. She said the future shines brightly with similar entertainment making an appearance at the festival.

    "Even as this one is going on I'm thinking about next year," she said. "People who organize festivals borrow from each other in the way the festivals are put on, promoted and the kinds of entertainment they have. So any original, good idea at one festival will likely show up at another one."

    Keeping the festival fresh, evolving and entertaining for the public makes the organization of the Loose Caboose a challenge Reece embraces. She hears the accolades from the vendors and many of the residents who travel many miles to come to Newton. She wants each year to be a memorable one for everyone involved.

    "The biggest form of flattery is to have your idea copied by someone else," Reece said.

    All Reece has had to eat since 4 a.m. is a biscuit. With noon fast approaching she has finally found a few minutes to figure out what she wants for lunch. It seems a dish closely associated with the "land down under" might fit the bill.

    "I'm going to find me a blooming onion," Reece said with a laugh. "I think I've worked up a pretty good appetite."

    Reece steps out into the cold air once again and strides past the wooden sculptures made by a chainsaw artist. She turns the corner where the kettle corn stand is and as a scattering of snow flakes float down, heads to find her onion.