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Joe Wollack is a CPA by profession and a paleontologist by hobby, so it’s no surprise that the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce puts this faithful member and volunteer’s analytical mind to work each year laying out the grid system that will accommodate the 200 or so booths for the annual Old Saybrook Arts & Crafts Festival, which returns on Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29. (Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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Walk by the Town Green the week before the annual Old Saybrook Arts & Crafts Festival on Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29 and you will see the usual: a grassy square bisected by a sidewalk. By Friday morning, however, that grassy square will be divided into aisles and vendor booths by lines painted on the grass. How will the lines get there? Through the efforts of a team of three or four dedicated volunteers who have helped with this task for years in support of the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce’s annual event.
Joe Wollack of Old Saybrook is a member of this line team, returning to help out the chamber year after year.
“I became a Chamber of Commerce member in 1980,” Joe says. “The biggest benefit to me as a member has been the networking opportunities it provides to meet and get to know other business people in town. I enjoy the informal relationships I’ve built through being involved with the chamber through the years.”
Joe, a partner in the local accounting firm of Lewitz, Balosie, Wollack, Rayner & Giroux, LLC, has for many years participated in chamber activities and volunteered in a variety of capacities; in 1991, he served as chamber president. A life-long Old Saybrook resident, he chose the career of accountant like his father; after earning his CPA, Joe joined his father’s Old Saybrook firm.
“My father was a CPA and started the firm in Old Saybrook in 1958. I came into the same business. The firm’s names have changed but the roots are still there,” Joe says.
“Growing up in town, our family had a tradition of service. My father was a Rotarian and the big [fundraising] event then was an annual auction after Thanksgiving. The Friday after Thanksgiving the accounting office was closed and I remember as a teenager helping my father move all of the items for the auction to Goodwin School where the event was held,” Joe recalls.
“There a lot of opportunities to volunteer and do things,” Joe says. “It doesn’t have to be a long commitment. You can volunteer for a few hours in support of an event or help out at the Food Pantry.”
He hopes that taking this perspective towards volunteering, just signing up for tasks your schedule allows, might encourage more young people to get involved, which is something many organizations are seeking.
Joe took this approach himself. As his business responsibilities grew, he decided to sign up to help with time-limited tasks and events. With his daughter, he’s volunteered at High Hopes Riding Academy, helped at the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Food Pantry, and served holiday dinners—and of course helped with chamber activities.
One of his long-standing volunteer commitments has been the painting of those lines for the annual Arts & Crafts Festival. It was long-time chamber member and community volunteer Bill McLaughlin who first roped him into it. McLaughlin, long retired, still returns to town from his travels to join the July line painting team.
“It takes two teams of two people each working for a solid morning to do it. Over time, one thing we learned was that paint does not stick to puddles!” Joe says with a smile.
In addition to Joe and McLaughlin, the arts show painting team usually includes Bill Barber and Bob Bradley.
Joe still recalls some days when they tried to paint the booth lines while dodging rain showers—not the best of circumstances.
“We have a grid with very specific measurements. We have to work around trees and sidewalks in order to line out about 200 artisan and food vendor spots,” Joe says. “We usually start doing the lines on the Thursday before the show because the vendors start arriving on Friday to set up their tents.”
As a child, Joe remembers going to the annual Arts & Crafts Festival as a family. Then, the vendors lined up along Main Street.
“Being exposed to real artwork for the first time as a kid made a big impression. I learned to admire the art and the artist’s talent just by being exposed,” Joe says. “I would encourage families to come to the Arts & Crafts Festival together to enjoy looking at the art and talking with the artists about their work.”
He recalls asking one photographer at the show to explain how he got that amazing photo of an owl in the field. The photographer shared his artist’s process, explaining that he had to wait a week to catch that shot. That was just one of many memorable conversations he had over the years with the exhibitors.
An interest in observing and understanding also led him to explore and learn about his other interest, paleontology.
“I like going to the Peabody Museum—the giant dinosaur bones, the murals, the dioramas—it brings you back to that earlier time,” Joe says. “I’m amazed about human evolution and our efforts to try to understand how did we develop and how long it took.”
Like his career as an accountant, Joe links his interest in paleontology and archaeology to his dad. As a member of the Archaeological Society of Southeastern Connecticut, when he was younger he volunteered to help with short-term digs initiated when a construction project suddenly discovered an artifact.
“It’s not Indiana Jones, but it is about sitting in the hot sun and dust to learn about things you find in situ,” Joe says. “I also like to read about the topic—there’s so much about it that I find interesting.”
The 55th Old Saybrook Arts & Crafts Festival runs Saturday, July 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Old Saybrook Town Green on Main Street. Parking and entry to the festival is free. Food and drinks will be sold by volunteers from local civic organizations.
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