The Big Read – A “Big” Event for Sunnyside Readers!

--story by Pat Harkins --photos by Mary Rouse

Sunnyside’s two libraries, Eiland Center and Highlands, joined forces to present what turned into several months of events and promotions for residents to enjoy as they read the spellbinding story of Kya, the “marsh girl,” and shared their feelings of loneliness and solitude with her life in the marsh. Coming out of a pandemic lockdown that affected all of us, Where the Crawdads Sing was the perfect choice for a book to bring us all back together!

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Starting with the first event on Friday, May 14th, courtesy of Sunnyside Times Presents, a dedicated group of your fellow residents tore through the next two months finding new and different ways to inspire readers of the book and present them with more information on life in the marsh. Weekly updates, library memberships for Shenandoah County Libraries, and small group discussions highlighted the coming event on July 14th for the Big Read, itself.

Our amazing resident artist, Anita Brechtel, created a lovely watercolor of the “Marsh Girl” which became our theme for the event. Anita generously donated the painting, which was later raffled at our event and won by Sue Johnson!

We had one of our resident “scientists”, Dr. Ralph Allen, present a good look at the marsh – its ecosystem as well as its benefits to nature. (By the way, the big take-away is that a marsh is NOT a swamp!) In addition, Joel Grow read passages from the novel that highlighted the importance of the “marsh” as a setting.

There was also a Dinner in the Marsh presented by Dining Services with a real down-home meal as the dinner special in the Tartan Grill or available for pick up to eat at home--or even down at the Pavilion with friends, picnic style.

And every week we had an update on the Big Read – Wednesday’s Email Blast featuring our Top Ten Reasons to be involved in the Big Read. Created and curated by Diane Young, it was a fun look at some of the different elements in the book.

This all led up to our event on July 14th in the Chapel when a distinguished panel discussed the major themes of the book --John Noffsinger on Nature, Alexis Hogan on Solitude/Loneliness, and Martha Merz on Becoming a Woman. Jim Hanscom was our moderator and also discussed the ending of the book, along with comments from our Chaplain, Jeff Carr. The voices and their thoughts were supported by video clips and slides featuring quotes from the book along with scenes of marsh flora and fauna.

But the best part of the event was the participation by our audience! After some initial shyness about participating, then it started….and one question became one more and then several more, until finally a little after 4:30 pm, we wrapped up the show!

Please give a huge thank you to the following people for giving up their time to allow you to enjoy yours more! Leaders of the Pack: Pat Harkins and Barbara Boothe; Moderator: Jim Hanscom; Panelists: John Noffsinger, Alexis Hogan, and Martha Merz. Narrator & Storyteller: Joel Grow; Very special helper: Diane Young; Audio/Visual: Tom Harkins; Graphic Artist: Pat Knight. And a big thank you to our Volunteers: Gina Holden, Eugenia Parker, Sharon Pafford, Sandra Caselli, Carol Anne Van Duyn, and Mary Yarnell. We also thank Chaplain Jeff Carr, Steve Ray, and Linda Davis in Dining Services for their help and for working with us. We give a big hand to Robert Shenk, Kella Cook and the “guys” for helping us with everything from setups to finding “marsh grass” for us to use as a backdrop to our programs. And we could not have done what we did without the support, assistance, and backing of our amazing Life Enrichment Coordinator, Layna Erney!

Now – Who’s ready for the next book???