We knew her as Dottie, the soft-spoken but determined – some might say politely strong-minded – co-founder, chairwoman and director of the Ol’ Front Porch Music Festival. It may have been her 30 years teaching English to middle-schoolers in Bay Shore on New York’s Long Island that prepared her to run the sprawling, all-volunteer Ol’ Front Porch organization – and to run it well.
Dottie and her husband, Dick, both avid sailors, retired to Oriental in 1994. In 1998, they co-founded Harbor Sounds, a popular bluegrass gospel group whose mission was to raise money for charities. Over $350,000 has been raised by the group in its 22 years of performing. Dottie was lead singer and Dick continues to play guitar.
Dottie was involved in many local organizations, including HOPE Clinic, the Hospice Thrift Shop, the Garden Club, and the Oriental Dance Club (she loved to dance!). She was president of the Oriental Woman’s Club in 1999-2000.
Dottie in a frequent pose during the festival… coordinating on the phone. From left, Leslie Kellenberger, performer Brittany Jean, Dottie.
After her arthritis forced her to stop performing with Harbor Sounds, she and her longtime friend and neighbor, Leslie Kellenberger, began discussing ways to promote local musicians. Leslie had an idea. What if bands could play on the porches of homes and businesses around Oriental? It could be a way to revive the spirit of pick-up roots music played back in the day on the porch of Captain Billy and Lucille Truitt’s Ol’ Store.
The festival was born. That first year, 2014, it lasted just four hours with 13 bands playing on Broad and Hodges streets. A few hundred people attended, and all the musicians played for free. The festival has grown every year since, with 2021 featuring 26 bands on 12 porches and a riverfront stage. An estimated 3,000 people attended that year during a rainy October weekend.
In the beginning, Dottie talked to everyone she knew and asked them to help, eventually marshalling hundreds of volunteers over the years. She led the effort to form a nonprofit organization with a board of directors to manage the festival. The board sought grants from organizations like the North Carolina Arts Council to help pay the musicians in order to keep the festival free to the public. Fundraising grew to include selling collectible buttons, Dottie’s idea, and merchandise, and obtaining sponsorships from local businesses – all with the goal of improving the musical lineup and growing the festival each year while keeping it free.
Of course, Dottie didn’t do it all by herself. She knew how to “hire” and delegate, and like a good teacher, she always gave others the credit and praise. She also insisted every year after the festival that personalized thank you notes be sent to everyone who helped in any way.
In her obituary, it was said that her students back in Bay Shore had described her as “insightful, dedicated, challenging, and gracious.” For those of us who worked with Dottie, we were her students, too.
A final thought. As an English teacher from New York, Dottie did not adopt many ungrammatical Southern colloquialisms, but we’ll offer this one anyway:
You done good, Miss Dottie. You done good.