Anyone who has attended a Homewood festival in the past decade might have seen a woman wearing a straw-colored, narrow-brimmed fedora. Very likely she was moving fast.
That was Allisa Opyd, Homewood’s events manager for the past 11 years, the energetic spirit and lead organizer of the village’s many festivals.
Opyd’s career has taken a new turn. Friday, Aug. 19, was her last day with the village. The next Monday, she started work with Windy City Cannabis, which has a number of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, including one in Homewood.
She traces her involvement in Homewood events back further than her employment with the village. She was a member of the village’s Economic Development Committee when she volunteered to help Rachael Jones, former public relations and events coordinator, with the Holiday Lights festival.
Opyd had experience in project management, but “that was my first venturing into events,” she said. She was excited by the way the community embraced the experience.
Soon she was hired as a consultant to help operate and develop events, and that morphed into a position on village staff.
In the years since that first Holiday Lights festival, the magic of festivals has not subsided. Often she would head back to village hall on some errand while the event continued on Martin Avenue.
“To turn around and look back at all the fun people are having, that is a special moment,” she said.
Those special moments have become more frequent over Opyd’s tenure. The village has added events in recent years, including Chocolate Fest and Arctic Dip during winter months, and Miracle on Martin, a smaller holiday season event following Holiday Lights.
The farmers market season expanded, too, with an indoor winter market added several years ago. Plans were in place to create a fall season, making the market nearly year-round, but the COVID-19 pandemic derrailed that effort.
Other events have dropped from the calendar, like Hobo Day and Block Party, and the pandemic put several on hold for a while, including Chocolate Fest and Noon Year’s Eve.
Some events have evolved, like the former Art and Garden Fair, which became the Artisan Street Fair and added local businesswomen Dodi Wians and Lisa Komoroski as curators of the vendors, and Holiday Lights, which started as a way to encourage shopping on the night of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District’s tree lighting ceremony and has become one of the village’s biggest, most popular events.
“People were saying ‘This reminds me of Stars Hollow from the “Gilmore Girls.”‘ That’s when I felt as though we had hit the home run,” Opyd said. “Gilmore Girls” was a TV show from 2000 to 2007 that was set in a fictional Connecticut town with a quaint downtown and quirky townsfolk.
Opyd has high hopes for the village’s newest festival, Dia de los Muertos. The first try in October 2021 also had that “home run” feel to it, she said. The event was inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, which honors the memory of loved ones who have died. Local artist Xicantl, whose family is from Mexico, created authentic sculptures and costumes for the event.
“We were hoping we would get 200 people at the event. There was about 2,000 in and out,” Opyd said. “It was just wonderful to see. I think it’s going to be wonderful to see the evolution of Day of the Dead.”
The festival seems special, she said, because it incorporates cross-cultural education into a fun event. It’s an event that will allow her to keep her hand in Homewood events. Windy City is sponsoring the mariachi band at this year’s Day of the Dead festival, so Opyd will be there to help.
Opyd quickly and frequently credits the team that works together to make events happen. She appreciates the ideas and enthusiasm of Sarah Meeks, who has helped with events for the past eight years. She appreciates the support of Mayor Rich Hofeld and the Board of Trustees. And she has special regard for Director John Schaefer and the Public Works Department crews who do much of the heavy lifting to set up for and clean up after events.
Despite the help, Opyd said the job is a demanding one, and she put in long hours and logged many steps during planning and especially on festival days.
“It’s a very physical job,” Opyd said. She has long been a runner, so that conditioning helps her meet the challenge. “I’ve turned to weights as well. It’s exhausting. I collapse at the end.”
The job was not limited to event management. Community relations was also part of the title and the task. Opyd was one of the village’s liaisons to the local business community and residents.
She said the mission has three main goals: To bring residents together regularly to reconnect, to bring visitors to town and to provide opportunities for more people to shop at local businesses. Together, those efforts are intended to maintain the health of the local economy and reinforce a strong sense of community among residents.
Hofeld said Opyd had a real impact on the village.
“She’s the one who guided the events and made them successful,” he said. “Most people have no idea what goes into it, the planning, the coordination, working with the businesses. She did all of that and she did it very, very well.”
He also noted that her energy and enthusiasm would be missed.
“No one worked harder than she or was more energetic,” he said. “You could never keep up with her when she’s walking.”