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Former librarian serves as ideal MCC guide, volunteer ambassador

Marilyn Pillar may not know the answers to all your questions, but she’ll find out and help you have a good time doing it
Marilyn Pillar works at the Midland Cultural Centre box office where she’s become such a large part of the organization that she calls herself the answering machine.

When you are the volunteer they choose to train new volunteers, you know you’re part of the lifeblood of an organization.

Meet Marilyn Pillar who is referred to as a generally awesome person by staff at the Midland Cultural Centre where she’s volunteered for a decade.

Of all the changes she’s seen at the centre in that time, she says the pandemic was the biggest shift, because it resulted in most of the staff leaving.

Pillar was asked to explain her job to new hires as they became part of the team.

At the box office, where she started as a volunteer, she says you are the answering machine.

Who better to answer questions than a retired librarian.

“People would come in asking us about everything. So, I set up a binder filled with answers and tourist information,” says Pillar, who moved here from the Cookstown area.

In her time at the MCC, she says that she’s tried out every position available to a volunteer — box office, usher, coat check, and whatever the centre needs doing.

“I want to say that I’m just a volunteer, but it’s more than that, because right now there are only three full-time staff. A lot of the rest of the work is done by volunteers,” Pillar says matter-of-factly.

When training new volunteers, or trying to entice people to volunteer at the centre, Pillar says there are a lot of questions that come up once in a blue moon.

She always tells new volunteers not to worry about not knowing the answer, because there’s always someone there that knows the answer. Spoken like a true librarian.

Over the years, Pillar lists three Canadian acts as her favourites that have graced the MCC stage.

The drag shows put on by Big Wigs are her all-time favourite.

“I love the Big Wigs shows. They’ve had a drag show every year except for COVID,” says Pillar.

The queens bring a particular brand of performance art, humour and effervescent joy that is contagious.

Pillar says the Good Lovelies have some of the most beautiful harmonies she’s ever heard and they come through town often.

“I was just blown away by their voices,” she says.

Now, she says when her husband and her go see some of the Huronia Players shows they know some of the cast, like they did in the most recent performance of Four Old Broads.

“It was funny,” she says about the show filled with colourful language and real people talking about their final days.

A highlight was when Pillar filled in as a bartender for the Buffy Sainte-Marie show (she remains a fan despite the recent controversy).

After working in community hubs — libraries — it’s fitting that Pillar should find her volunteer career in another hub central to her community.

The one common link between her work in libraries and her work now as a volunteer is the same.

“People don’t read signs,” she says with a chuckle.

“There are signs and a marquee. We advertise on social media and online newspapers. There’s no reason not to know about (the MCC).

“Still, we get a lot of people who come in and say ‘I’ve never been in here and I’ve lived here all of my life’.”

She takes her new role seriously as she tries to get people through the door, into their seats and enjoying great shows and art.

Originally, Pillar says she started volunteering at the centre because she was new in the community, and she wanted to meet people, and give back to the community.

“It gets me out of the house. It gives me challenges for my brain. You know, if you don’t keep your brain active then who knows what.

“I’ve made some good friends working here, and I feel good about contributing.”

Pillar encourages anyone interested in volunteering to check out the volunteer section on the website.

“You set your own schedule, and the jobs are posted on the website.”

A few years ago the designation was changed from volunteer to ambassador and this retired librarian wears her newfound title well.