Fifty years ago Margaret Fishback Powers, who grew up in Tillsonburg not too far from Lake Lisgar, was inspired walking along a beach in Kingston.
It led to Fishback Powers writing Footprints in the Sand in 1964, recognized as one of the world's most famous inspirational poems.
Now living in Coquitlam, BC, each summer Fishback Powers returns to visit family and friends in her hometown where she was recognized as Tillsonburg's Favourite Daughter in 2001.
"Margaret has been doing a very private function for the past nine years, usually just family and close friends, for Footprints in the Sand – her foundation (FISF) – a charitable organization which supports various groups," said Irene Hurley, a family friend. "The main one is Blossom Garden Orphanage in Jamaica."
Every year, it's been on the Father's Day weekend.
"This year, because it's the 50th anniversary," said Hurley, "our committee decided to do a Gala for her in celebration of the writing of the poem."
Rather than compete against the biggest festival in town, Turtlefest, which has grown in size each year since its 2011 inaugural, they agreed to partner with the popular turtle festival. But Hurley stressed this year's Footprints Gala Evening – which is open to the general public – is a one-time-only event.
Footprints Gala Evening will be held in the Lions Auditorium at the Tillsonburg Community Centre from 5-10 p.m. on Saturday, June 14. Advanced tickets only are $40 each, available at Sears Tillsonburg, Annandale National Historic Site, and Station Arts Centre. For more information call 519-550-3461.
"I'm really excited about the Gala," said Hurley, noting it will feature a formal dinner and live auction – with two auctioneers, including Tillsonburg's Jared Pettman – and guest greeters and speakers, including Fishback Powers. Auction proceeds support Tillsonburg's Upper Deck Youth Centre.
"At 5 o'clock we're going to have an auction preview – we have some really nice, interesting auction items – and greetings and readings from both Paul and Margaret. And refreshments, of course. It's a very casual prelude to dinner.
"We're having a formal dinner from 6-7ish... really nice. Dave Beres, our mayor, is our caterer. We're going to have tables of eight, so if people would like to get a group together, let us know when you get your tickets. Otherwise we'll be seating and just interspersing, because sometimes that's fun too.
"We have another local artist – a singer – Brenda Stover, who has been working with Margaret. She put the poem to music and worked with Margaret to record it. This is going to be her debut of the song, the first time she's sung it to an audience."
They have some sponsors and would like a few more to assist in supporting Upper Deck Youth Centre, or donate items for auction, which Hurley noted supports youth in the community. Organizations might consider sponsorship from Bronze ($100), Silver ($250), Gold ($500) or Platinum ($1,000).
"We have some, which is encouraging, but we're always looking for more sponsors," she smiled.
Because it's the 50th anniversary of Footprints, Fishback Powers had been asked to attend anniversary celebrations in South America and Europe.
"She turned them all down, saying she was only doing them in Coquitlam and her hometown, which she calls Tillsonburg," said Hurley. "And that's the theme – My Town, A Reflection of 50 Years. I feel it's really an honour for Tillsonburg, there were so many other countries that wanted her to come."
"This year, you'll see us in the Turtlefest advertising. We're doing a walk-a-thon (June 14 at 9:45 a.m.) and the money raised will go to the orphanage and arthritis society. And we're also going to have a booth over by the Crystal Palace, presenting the sea turtles."
There are about 5-7 species, she said, including leatherback and green sea turtles, that live off the east and west coasts of Canada.
"They (east coast) sea turtles migrate to the Caribbean and Jamaica is one of their nesting grounds, so that's the tie-in... with the orphanage in Jamaica."
They are still working on some final details, but they'd like to have videos and posters showing sea turtles.
"Jim Fishback, Margaret's brother from Toronto, he's a photographer. He is going to be doing a presentation of Margaret's Footprints story, and he's also going to do a feature on sea turtles."
The Walk-a-Thon will begin at 15 Denton Avenue, Fishback Powers' family homestead and site of the Footprints Museum and Heritage Home.
"She has a private museum of all of her work," said Hurley, noting there are commendations and letters from the Queen of England, the Pope, gifts and more. "It's beautiful."
The Footprints Museum will be open to the public on Friday, June 13, from 1-5 p.m. and Saturday, June 14, during the Walk-a-Thon.
"Most people don't realize that Tillsonburg actually has two museums."
Fishback Powers, who recently celebrated her 75th birthday, will also be signing books on Saturday the 14th from 1-3 p.m. at Annandale National Historic Site, 30 Tillson Avenue.