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Hometown Hero: Volunteer plays the right notes

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M.J. Moravec, center, talks with Tina Longstaff during a performance of Patchouli at last Friday's Meet Me Under the Bridge concert at Heritage Park in Wabasha. Moravec volunteered to book bands and do other work for the concert series.

WABASHA — The band played folk songs as people listened, danced, sipped wine and licked ice cream cones. Among the crowd was Mary Jane Marovec, who was busy walking around Heritage Park, watching people and listening to what they had to say.

It's part of her volunteer job.

Moravec, known as M.J., seeks out the best bands for the Meet Me Under the Bridge concert series, which is Friday evenings during the summer and fall. Moravec books the bands, helps them set up and does other work. It takes about 200 hours a year, but she loves it.

She volunteered for the job with the River Junctions Arts Council because "I just want to be actively involved in the community," she said.

When she walks around, it's not that she doesn't enjoy the music but more that "I like to see how people are responding to the music, just to the whole event," she said. "So many times, you see the smiles on the faces."


She and her husband, Dan Moravec, lived in Rochester for many years but often visited Wabasha. One of the things they loved was the RJAC Friday night concerts.

Eventually, they decided to move to the prairie south of Wabasha because her husband can often work from home. She runs, ACE Brain Fitness, a business that improves cognitive skills for youths and older adults. She lives along a Mississippi River backwater and often uses her personal watercraft to get to work in summer.

When she joined RJAC, they found she had skills needed for the concert series. Two of her sons, Jesse and Ethan, are members of the Sawtooth Bluegrass Band; she helps manage them, so she knew about bookings, music, bands and other details. "It was a good fit for someone like me," Moravec said.

Sharon Burke, head of the council, said they're "very lucky to have MJ." Such groups are always looking for more volunteers. Moravec fit in because she knows about little things, such as that performers don't like cold water because it chills their vocal chords; singers prefer warmer water.

Moravec said her goal is to have the concert series appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Some people would like only polka or folk bands and she has them. But she also has bluegrass, Dixie, blues and Americana. Summer concerts end Aug. 23, but the SeptOberfest concerts are Sept. 14 through Oct. 12, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Bands are paid with donations and from RJAC memberships.

When Patchouli performed on July 19, Moravec was there around 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. concert, checking with bandmembers Julie and Bruce Hecksel about acoustics and water, and making sure of other details, such as checking the toilet paper supply in the portable toilets.

On July 19, when Patchouli played, about 250 came to hear the music. Moravecl said the Wabasha County Fair probably kept the number down. The biggest audience for the concert series was more than 500 for Sawtooth.


She admits that she doesn't get to just sit down and enjoy shows. "Sometimes, I want to sit there and listen too," she said.

Moving around, however, gives her a different enjoyment, she said. "I get the joy of the shows and the people," she said. She also gets a chance to chat with friends.

After the Patchouli concert, Moravec stayed late, chatting with the Hecksels and people who came for the concert. At 9 p.m., she was one of the few people left at Heritage Park.


Hometown Hero is a weekly feature highlighting a community leader, mover-and-shaker, volunteer or all-around great person. Know a hero? Send nominations to news@postbulletin.com. Include "Hometown Hero" in the subject.

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