Irene Kuhar has spent 40 years with the Pacific Northwest Music Festival and is now retiring. For about 35 of those years, she spent a lot of time doing paperwork as correspondence secretary at her dining room table here. Margaret Speirs photo

Longtime, dedicated music festival volunteer retires

After volunteering for the Pacific Northwest Music Festival for 40 years, about 35 of those years as correspondence secretary, Irene Kuhar is retiring.

Kuhar says she was pretty much responsible for receiving all the entries, passing them onto programming, and when the entries returned to her she would fill them out with the time, schedule and date of the performance and mail them back to the students.

She also would arrange for the individual secretaries who would work with the adjudicators by keeping track of all the paperwork, and fill out all the first, second, third place certificates for the students. Kuhar would also pick up the adjudicators and drive them to venues.

“It’s a lot of work,” she says. “A lot of little things that people don’t see or hear about, a lot to do and a lot of preparation. When you do it for so many years, I don’t write things down because it’s all in my head and everyone knows ‘yeah it runs smoothly,’ but a lot of people don’t know how much work is involved.”

Kuhar says she is a very organized person who likes everything to be in place so everyone knew things were going to get done.

A lot of paperwork was involved from the time the entry is received to programming, proofreading and papers always ended up coming back to her, she says.

“Secretaries are the most important,” she says. “Without your secretaries, you don’t have a festival.

“We can always get door people and people in the lobby. They come for a couple of hours but a secretary needs to be there from morning to closing.”

The secretaries are the ones who need a huge thank-you, she adds.

They are very dedicated people but they are getting older too and have been volunteering for as long as Kuhar has, she says.

“We need to stress we need younger people involved,” she says.

Young mothers may say they don’t have time to volunteer but Kuhar says she was a young mom when she started and was working, looking after her husband and kids and still had time to volunteer.

“I felt it was my duty,” she says, adding that her kids weren’t involved in the festival because they were more into sports, which she helped out with too.

“I was a judge in gymnastics but I still volunteered for festival,” she adds, saying that a mom can volunteer for a couple of hours.

If a door person doesn’t show up, then she can call “just about anybody” to come fill in but secretaries can’t have a short training session and do the job, they need to be familiar with the rules, how things work and need to be done, she says.

When a secretary sees all the paperwork, it’s terrifying and they don’t want to make a mistake but that’s not their job, she says.

It’s the adjudicator’s job, the secretary just keeps track of what’s going on and fills out the certificates and the adjudicators do the work, she says.

A couple of people stepped into secretary positions this year and caught on really quickly which will be a good head-start for next year, says Kuhar.

Kuhar has left instructions for what needs to be done month by month, starting in September all the way to the festival.

She has also filled out sample files so her successor can see how they’re done.

“It’s not necessary that they do it the same way,” says Kuhar. “Everyone has their own way of doing things.”

Now there’s about 1,500 entries but when she started, the festival received just over 500 entries.

Back then, the city didn’t have the REM Lee Theatre, so the festival was spread out here and in Kitimat, says Kuhar.

In Terrace, the Skeena High School was used for band and the volunteers had to put flooring down and put curtains up; at Caledonia, the lecture theatre was used for the instrumentalists; and Veritas hosted dance as it had a stage, says Kuhar.

“The Kitimat theatre was finished so we had dance there. We had staff in Kitimat and Terrace and I was looking after theater at Cal, then we built a theatre too, so that made a huge difference,” she says.

The awards committee is a dedicated group, who works hard and can always find someone to sponsor a new award, she says.

“People are really willing to donate and give and support us and it’s nice to see,” she says.

Kuhar says she will still help out at the music festival, if needed.

“I’ll miss the festival itself, I love watching and listening and you know, getting ready and I get all wired up and then when the festival is over, it’s like for days I walk around ‘why am I feeling like this?’ I don’t feel like doing anything,” she says.

Her successor hasn’t been chosen yet and Kuhar says it needs to be someone who’s dedicated.

“I was dedicated because to me it was a job, that’s how I treated it,” she says.