BY LORAINE ANDERSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Open Space may be ground zero of the National Cherry Festival, but its nerve center is a third-floor office in the Chase Bank Building.
There — surrounded by framed posters of festivals past, photographs of a smiling queen, overflowing boxes of bright-red volunteer T-shirts — the festival’s eight full-time management staff and eight interns have worked for the last six months to bring the 87th annual festival to fruition.
“They came in thinking, ‘It’s a festival, how hard could it be,’ “ said Mandy DePuy, First Impressions director for the festival. “Then, the realization hit them, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re putting on a party for 500,000 people.’ Now they are putting what they learned over the last six months to the test.”
“Set-Up Week” kept the interns hopping last week and festival week will be more of the same.
“If someone needs help, you have to move fast. You can’t sit on it,” festival executive director Trevor Tkach told them in a morning staff meeting last week.
The festival would be impossible without the help of interns and 1,500 volunteers, DePuy said. They provide an estimated 50,000 work hours a year for the cherry festival and its newest cousins, the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival and the Leapin’ Leprechaun 5K race in mid-March, which attracted more than 800 runners this year.
All of the interns, except Samantha Winner, who attends Cincinnati State Ohio, are from Michigan and most are working for credit at their respective school — Albion College, Central Michigan University, Lake Superior State College, Michigan State University and Western Michigan University.
Three interns — Bailey Judson, Tyler Champt and Brett Knause - are from Traverse City. The others are Charelotte Kern, Bay City; Anna Maria Menchaca, Marine City; Jake Serilla, Richmond; and Jessica Roeske, Sault Ste. Marie.
Each intern receives a stipend — $2,000 for the 30-week interns and $1,000 for the 15-weekers, DePuy said. Their housing is free, thanks to cherry fest partner Arbors of Traverse Apartments. Each is assigned to one of the staff’s eight managers to help on different festival aspects, from corporate partnerships, media and marketing, social media and volunteer and corporate membership, to operations, accounting, ticketing and event planning.
The eight were chosen from a field of about 20-30 applicants. Managers look for motivated and detail-oriented interns with strong organization, writing and organization skills; proficiency in word processing, internet and email; the ability to work well with others or alone; a positive attitude and good sense of humor; and a desire for achievement and willingness to go beyond the call of duty to make it happen.
“It’s a fun job, but they have to be able to work under heavy pressure, deadlines and multi-tasking,” DePuy said.
Menchaca, a social media and marketing intern, graduated this spring from Michigan State University with a degree in advertising. She, like others, thinks the National Cherry Festival internship on her resume will give her a leg up on other job candidates as she looks for a job.
She applied for an internship because it looked like a good fit. She’s does all the graphics for posters and uploads festival-related news, photos and other items on Facebook, which has a direct link to Twitter.
“Everybody says this is a great opportunity, and they’re right,” she said. “It is a really, really good opportunity. I feel like I’ve learned more here in 30 weeks than I did at school,” she said.
What surprised her?
“I grossly underestimated how busy I would be,” she said, laughing.
Judson, a 2011 Traverse City Central High School graduate and now a junior and communications major at Albion College, has always enjoyed the cherry festival and spent a lot of time around it as a junior ambassador. She recently decided she wanted to become an event planner and is working this summer as a ticketing intern.
“You actually get good work experience and aren’t just told to run out for coffee,” Judson said.
Winner, the 30-week Cincinnati State hospitality management senior, learned about the cherry festival internships at Internships.com.
“I wanted to do something with an event, something fun and festival,” she said. “Most of the internships were corporate.”
She’s an operations intern here. Her first big job when she arrived in January was the four-day Traverse City Winter Comedy Festival in February.
“I got 10 hours of sleep over those four days,” she said. “But I still want to do it because I love it.I like seeing people making memories out of things I create. It’s cool to see little kids running around and excited by a sledding hill in the middle of the street downtown.”
She and fellow operations intern Brett Knause helped design the layout of the vendor spaces and more than 40 festival tents at the Open Space. Knause, of Traverse City, has volunteered at six previous cherry festivals.
“I love it,” he said.