One Book, One Community of Monroe (OBOC) had over 15 events scheduled for 2020.
The coronavirus shut down all but one as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer increased restrictions on public gatherings. The events, scheduled for March 11 through April 3, included an on-stage conversation between Agora staff members and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the author of this year’s OBOC selection “What the Eyes Don’t See.”
MCCC President Kojo Quartey said the cancellation of all OBOC events was a first.
“Aside from the OBOC events, nobody in this world was ready for this pandemic,” Quartey said. “Nothing like this has ever happened in anybody’s lifetime.”
The only OBOC event that occurred was the kickoff on March 11. The event was held in the La-Z-Boy Center and included a water sampling table, used book sale and a screening of the documentary “Nor A Drop to Drink” in the Meyer Theater.
On the day of the kickoff event, Whitmer issued a recommendation to cancel events with 100 or more attendees to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Suzanne Krueger, OBOC event coordinator, said MCCC staff members were closely monitoring the number of attendees at the event.
“They were ready and prepared to shut us down if we got over 100 people,” Krueger said. “At that point, that was the directive. It was very much a touch-and-go situation, and they were well prepared. It wasn’t haphazard in any way.”
Following the kickoff event, Krueger made the decision to cancel all other OBOC events.
“At the point in time when things were getting canceled, everything moved so quickly,” Krueger said. “Within a week’s time, it was a given that nobody was going to be doing anything.”
Joe Verkennes, MCCC’s director of marketing and communications, helped to spread the word of the cancellations following Krueger’s decision.
“We were following the orders of the governor, which were at first to cancel all public gatherings of 250 or less, which then went to 100, to 50, then to 10,” Verkennes said. “I believe that Suzanne made the call when the governor’s threshold was 100 or 50, but these all changed within a day of each other.”
Verkennes announced the cancellations to the general public on MCCC’s website alert, the MCCC coronavirus website, and through the media.
The money that would have funded 2020’s OBOC events will be saved for next year, according to Josh Meyers, executive director of The Foundation.
“All funds raised for this year’s programs are restricted solely for that purpose and will be carried forward to next year,” Meyers said. “Since the events were canceled in response to COVID-19, only minor expenses related to promotion and printing were expensed.”
The money that funds OBOC events comes from multiple donors, including The Foundation at MCCC, local businesses and individual donors, Meyers said. An annual celebrity waiter night, held this year at Joe’s French Italian Inn, also raises funds for OBOC events. 2020’s celebrity waiter night brought in a record-breaking sum of $3,263, which will be reserved for next year’s events.
Mary Lyons, administrative assistant for events and reservations at MCCC, oversaw contacting people who were involved in OBOC events to notify them of the cancellations.
“I have to call each customer and explain why we have to cancel the event,” Lyons said. “In this case, it was very unfortunate, [because of] COVID-19.”
Lyons said her prior career as a flight attendant has prepared her for informing customers about cancellations.
She recalled working on a New Year’s Eve flight headed to New York. Because of bad weather, the plane had to land in Pittsburgh, and it was her job to tell passengers the plane would have to land early.
“I’ve had to explain a lot of disappointment,” Lyons said. “This one was probably my least favorite. Everybody’s event, whether it’s little or large, means something to them.”
Despite the cancellations, Lyons said she is keeping a positive attitude.
“There’s bigger disappointments out there right now for some—I try to look at the upside of things,” Lyons said. “We can cancel an event, but we’re still here to talk about it.”